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ZESN criticises transfer of voter registration to RG’s office

Staff Reporter

THE Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has expressed dismay at a motion seeking to transfer key responsibilities such as voter registration from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) back to the Registrar-General’s Office.

The motion further plans to revoke delimitation responsibilities from ZEC, proposing a return to the former system where a delimitation commission was entrusted with delineating electoral boundaries.

In a statement this week, ZESN lamented that the proposed Constitutional Amendments will significantly alter electoral processes in the country.

“All these proposals revert to the pre-2009 system and in ZESN’s opinion, removing such integral processes from ZEC is both retrogressive and a reversal of past progressive electoral reforms.

“This further compromises the independence of ZEC by allowing separate government bodies to perform roles directly linked to the Commission’s duties. This jeopardizes the Commission’s stewardship of elections, and ultimately erodes citizens’ confidence and trust in electoral processes,” ZESN noted.

Section 239 of the Constitution mandates ZEC to prepare, and oversee the conduct of elections and referendums in Zimbabwe, register voters, compile voters’ rolls, delimit constituencies, conduct and supervise voter education as well as accredit observers for elections and referendums.

The broad authority granted to ZEC is common among regional Election Management Bodies (EMBs) as is the case with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), which handles both voter education and delimits electoral boundaries.

Likewise, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is responsible for both delimiting boundaries and registering voters. Additionally, the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of Kenya performs dual roles of voter registration and delimitation.

ZESN says Zimbabwe must follow regional standards and empower ZEC to properly execute its mandate.

“The Zimbabwean scenario is not unique, since 2009, it has adopted the independent model of EMBs by giving key responsibilities of all electoral processes including voter registration and delimitation processes to the ZEC.

“Independent models of EMBs follow good practice as their electoral legitimacy is enhanced, perceived to be impartial and not subject to political control.

“Centralisation of electoral business under this model also ensures better planning and more cohesive institutionalisation of electoral tasks. The proposed reforms which will involve the government will cause unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and may be influenced by the incumbency.”

Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution, which was ostensibly a people-driven process, provides for the roles and responsibilities of ZEC, whose impartiality and integrity have always been questioned amid allegations the electoral body is a Zanu PF appendage.

The elections watchdog said while acknowledging that reasonable Constitutional amendments may be done, ZESN cautions against making changes that have a bearing on electoral processes as it raises trust issues.

“The Constitution has already been amended twice, in the short span of ten years, with Amendment No. 2 alone introducing 23 changes. ZESN believes there should be restraint in continually or heavily altering the Constitution, stability and continuity of ZEC in executing the 2013 roles is of great necessity.

“Rather than seeking to amend the Constitution, ZESN believes strengthening ZEC’s independence and capacity should have been considered.

“The nature of the ‘Independence of Commissions’ is spelt out in Section 235 of the Constitution, which states that; ‘The independent Commissions are independent and are not subject to the direction or control of anyone and must exercise their functions without fear, favour or prejudice; although they are accountable to Parliament for the efficient performance of their functions.’

“ZESN implores the government to revisit proposals submitted by ZESN and several CSOs in the previous electoral cycle, among these the need for ZEC’s independence to be enhanced, ZEC to be accessible to the public and adopt open data policies in order to gain public trust and confidence…”

ZESN also submits that there must be equal media coverage of elections and access to information; effective enforcement of prohibited political conduct during elections; strengthening of the provisions on results management to enhance transparency; reviewing the Electoral Act to align with Constitutional provisions, and expansion of provisions relating to voter education and election observation.

There must also be the inclusion of mechanisms that increase women, youth and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) representation and participation in decision-making and effective electoral dispute resolution mechanisms among others.

“A holistic electoral reform approach that takes into cognisance, the Constitution of Zimbabwe, SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (ACDEG) which Zimbabwe ratified in 2022 should be considered to usher in democratic elections in Zimbabwe,” ZESN further noted.

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