Blog

Big questions around the voter’s roll

With the proclamation of 23 August 2023 as the harmonized election date, the country has been set on an almost irrevocable path to the polls

The voter’s roll has remained a nettlesome issue for opposition political parties and civil society with unresolved issues around it, sparking accusations of bias aimed at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). If ZEC fails to engage stakeholders and ally the speculations flying around, way ahead of polls, the voter’s roll will be one foreseeable but avoidable area on whose basis the forthcoming elections will be disputed.

From 27 to 31 May 2023, ZEC opened the voter’s roll for inspection by registered voters at different centres across the country. Immediately the process raised questions about the state of the roll, with prominent members of the opposition CCC such as Deputy Spokesperson Ostallos Siziba, Professor Welshman Ncube and Bulawayo Central Member of Parliament missing their names, and battling to have them restored.

As if a controversial delimitation report completed in February, which was the subject of a court application by MDC leader Douglas Mwonzora to postpone elections, was not enough, errors on the voters’ roll have caused confusion about voters’ polling stations. Whether the five-day voters’ roll inspection process has managed to resolve these issues will only become apparent on 23 August when Zimbabweans troop to the ballot box or if the voters’ roll is released before the polls.

There are fears that the problems seen during the inspection exercise may result in large numbers of people being turned away from polling stations on voting day. The opposition and civil society have asked ZEC to release an auditable, analysable and searchable voters’ roll.

Electoral Watchdog Elections Resource Centre (ERC), civic group Project 263 and opposition Member of Parliament for Harare North have gone to court seeking release of the voters’ roll. ZEC insists on releasing a physical copy of the voter’s roll which costs nearly USD 187,000 each and is difficult to analyze.

Babra Ontibile Bhebe, Executive Director, Election Resource Centre has revealed that the proclamation of elections has no barring on the implementation of the amendments of the electoral bill which is currently in parliament.

"The proclamation of an election has no baring on the implementation of any amendments to the electoral act. If the amendments to the Act are signed even after proclamation they will apply to that election," she said

The Bill needs to be finalised as it will operationalise the latest constitutional amendments for the election of 10 youth members of the National Assembly, one from each province, as well as the continued election of 60 women, six from each province, to the National Assembly under a party-list system

"However, in terms of the youth quota, the amendments potentially give guidelines on the nomination process for the youth quota therefore it is imperative for the amendments to be approved before proclamation, because it will leave ZEC in a legal lacuna as to how to effect the nomination process for the youth quota," added ERC executive director Bhebe

The harmonised elections will be held between July 26 and August 26 this year "In terms of international best practice, amendments to the electoral laws must be effected 6 months before an election to ensure buy in and time for stakeholders to adjust to the amendments," she added whilst currently Zimbabwe is left with less between 3 to 4 months before the harmonised election.

Section 158 (1) of the Constitution, which provides that a general election must be held so that polling takes place not more than 30 days before the expiry of the five-year period upon swearing in of the President and/or Parliament. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, who is the Leader of the

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, who is the Leader of the House, reveal to the state run newspaper that there is need to expeditiously deal with the Bill. “Indeed we need to have it passed before proclamation of elections. Once we manage to do that, it will be used for the forthcoming elections. We will definitely prioritise the Bill and I do not see any impediment from having it passed on time. We will definitely be on time,” said Minister Ziyambi.

The Bill needs to be finalised as it will operationalise the latest constitutional amendments for the election of 10 youth members of the National Assembly, one from each province, as well as the continued election of 60 women, six from each province, to the National Assembly under a party-list system Electoral Amendment Bill currently before Parliament will be given priority so that it is passed on time as it has a bearing on the forthcoming harmonised elections

ZEC is empowered to carry out this exercise in terms of Sections 160 and 161 of the Zimbabwe Constitution and Section 37a of the Electoral Act. If a general election is held less than six months after a delimitation, the old constituency and ward boundaries must be used for the election, according to Section 161(2)] of the Constitution.