By Farayi Machamire
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has been thrown into confusion over contradicting statistics on the youth vote and funding for the forthcoming harmonised elections, among other challenges.
Amid indications that the impending polls would be determined by the young men and women who are registered to vote, Zec commissioners are divided over the definition of youth, with their differences now playing out in the public domain.
The confusion over the youth vote has sent commissioners scrambling for the Constitution to clarify the definition of youth after Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba averred that youths will be the game-changers in elections expected between July 21 and August 21.
“Sixty percent of the registered voters are aged between 18-40 years. This means that this is going to be an election for young people,” Chigumba said of the provisional disaggregated figures from the ongoing biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise, which has so far registered 5,3 million people.
She was speaking during a meeting with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on Monday.
Zec commissioner Qhubani Moyo has differed with Chigumba publicly, taking to social media to issue a contradicting interpretation of the statistics from the BVR.
“I saw some information insinuating that young people below the age of 35 constitute 60 percent of registered voters. While the electoral commission is still finalising its figures having decrypted about 96 percent of data received, the correct position is that youths constitute around 45 percent of registered voters,” Moyo said.
In terms of the country’s Constitution, citizens aged 18 and above are eligible to vote. The charter is, however, not definitive on the age range for a youth.
For statistical purposes, the United Nations defines those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 as youth without prejudice to other definitions by member States.
In practice, the ruling Zanu PF has been generous in its definition of youth, with even members old enough to qualify for retirement being considered members of its youth wing although the party’s constitution classifies a youth as one being between the ages of 18 and 35.
The current youth secretary for Zanu PF, Pupurai Togarepi is aged 52, and makes up the party’s youth membership along with his son, Gabriel.
Absalom Sikhosana was perhaps the oldest Zanu PF youth chair as he only vacated the seat in 2014 at the aged of 62.
Sikhosana had hung onto his post amid choruses for him to let go, arguing he was “young at heart”.
Efforts by the Daily News to get Chigumba also to respond to questions sent to her on how she arrived at the 60 percent of the registered voters aged between 18-40 years were fruitless.
However, while addressing political parties on Wednesday, Chigumba appeared to agree with Moyo.
“The 18-34 years age group constitutes 43,5 percent of the total recorded votes so far. The 60+ years age group constitutes 13,6 percent of the total recorded votes so far,” she said.
The confusion comes as the commission is seized with the processes of decrypting date from the BVR exercise and preliminary cleaning of data collected during the blitz phases as it awaits the delivery of the de-duplication software.
After data de-duplication, a provisional voters’ roll will be produced and opened for public inspection before the final roll is printed.
Social commentator Denford Ngadziore said the definition of youths in Zimbabwe has been adulterated by the ruling party, adding Chigumba can be forgiven for framing those between 36 and 40 as young people.
“Be that as it may, we appeal to Zec to give us disaggregated information in regards to the bracket between 18-40 years so that we will not go into the election guessing and this will also give political parties ample time to be able to target the right audience,” he said.
This also comes against a backdrop of inadequate funding for the national elections management body, which was allocated $132,2 million for the harmonised elections in the 2018 National Budget, a figure approximately half the $274 million the Commission had indicated it needed for the eagerly-awaited polls.
The issue of electoral reforms is also lurking in the shadows, with opposition parties pressing for the levelling of the political playing field before the polls.
Interim MDC leader Nelson Chamisa is said to have hinted this week that the party could pull out of the polls unless President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration takes concrete steps to create a level playing field.
Chamisa’s predecessor, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, reportedly requested— in a meeting with Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga in Harare — for the polls’ postponement ostensibly because of lack of electoral reforms which undermines the credibility of the 2018 polls.
Tsvangirai died in a South African hospital after a long battle with colon cancer and was buried at his rural home in Buhera two weeks ago.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, told the Daily News after Mnangagwa’s meeting with the late former Prime Minister at his Highlands, Harare mansion that his boss was awaiting formal submissions from the opposition on the “legal issues” the MDC leader wanted addressed in relation to his proposal to delay the 2018 elections.
The opposition has been demanding wide-ranging electoral reforms, which they said should be enacted before going for the general elections, but according to Charamba, there has not been any formal submission to government in that regard.
Luke Tamborinyoka, who was Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, denied that his boss had tabled a proposal to postpone elections.
Political parties are also alarmed by the staff movements at Zec.
Zec this week cut ties with its chief elections officer, Constance Chigwamba, after she fell out of favour with commissioners at the electoral management body.
Chigwamba had been seconded to the post of Zec chief elections officer in June 2015 by former president Robert Mugabe and was handed a letter terminating her employment with the commission after Zec’s board meeting on Friday last week, advising her that she was being sent back to the Public Service Commission with effect from March 1.
Her departure comes as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is in the process of investigating Zec senior management over what appears to be irregular purchase of tents, computers and stationery for election-related purposes back dating to the 2013 general elections.
Zacc had been furnished with documentation regarding senior Zec officials who allegedly flouted tender processes in exchange for kickbacks and bribes.
It has not yet been established how much government was prejudiced as a result although insiders believe the loss suffered by the State runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Chigwamba’s ouster comes less than two months after Rita Makarau resigned from the commission under unclear circumstances.
While the reasons behind Makarau’s exit from Zec are not known, speculation has it that her resignation was part of the domino effects arising from Mugabe’s ouster.
The opposition had on a number of occasions called on Makarau to retire from Zec, accusing her of being too close to Zanu PF and Mugabe, in particular. Daily News