STATEMENT ON VOTER REGISTRATION AND RELATED ELECTION ISSUES

Issued by Cllr Ian Makone
23 June 2021

1. Introduction

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the fourth state, I welcome you to our Second Press Statement of the year, focused on Voter Registration and related processes.

We note that since onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in December of 2019, the world has been forced to change the way it has been living and had to adjust to the new reality. Zimbabwe is no exception and is scheduled to hold harmonized General Elections in 2023, just twenty four months away, yet a number of critical issues relating to the elections remain unaddressed or are being conducted atsnail’s space, without stakeholder consultation.

Among the key issues of particular concern to us are voter registration, diaspora vote, voter education, and delimitation. We invite you to appreciate the significance of these electoral processes and the need for a collective voice towards their resolution.

2. VoterRegistration

We note with serious concern the paltry number of persons registered as voters since the last harmonized elections in 2018. On the ZEC’s own admission, they registered less than 1500 new voters between August 2018 and December 2020. In our opinion these low figures are largely attributable to the limited numbers of registration centres, 66 operational centres country wide. These centres are staffed by a skeletal staff, understood to be 30% of normal compliment, reflecting

page1image1774464

ZEC’s low prioritization of this vital function. The limited number of registration centres entail that prospective registrants will have to travel scores of kilometres to access the services.

When the Biometric Voter Registration, BVR, was introduced in 2017 it was established that each BVR machine was capable of registering one voter every four minutes and this standard was applied to determine the number of voter registration teams that would be required for a smooth registration process during that year. Based on this standard each team could theoretically register a maximum of 120 people in an eight hour shift. It is disturbing that some ZEC offices have lowered the bar to as low as 20 registrants per day. Two problems arise from the current arrangement. First, the distances that intending registrants have to travel to registration centres impose a tax burden that most cannot afford. We therefore call for permanent registration facilities to be established or assigned to strategic centres in each Ward, in order to provide an equitable facility to all citizens. Second, imposing such a low daily target per centre has resulted in people being turned away without being registered and chances are that they would not return due to the long distances travelled. We say that ZEC registration centres should continue to be guided by the standard of 120 persons per machine per 8-hour shift, which was established scientifically in 2017.

We are conscious of the need to maintain social distancing and other measures intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These can be respected and yet still provide the service that citizens are entitled to receive. The ZEC teams are frontline workers in the fight against this pandemic and their protection through vaccination does not need emphasizing. We therefore reiterate that ZEC should establish the capacity and the will to register in excess of 300 000 new voters per year, a number consistent with the demographic grouping of persons becoming of voting age each year.

ZEC is a long way from achieving this achievable goal of registering more than 300000 new voters per year. This is a responsibility over which they have exclusivity and Zimbabweans only demand that they do what it takes to accomplish this goal. Since the last harmonized elections the backlog of unregistered young people has risen to close on one million and the question begging an answer is, WHY? More importantly, Zimbabweans demand a blitz as soon as possible to rectify this anomaly which disenfranchises a significant proportion of the population. MDC-Alliance is an interested stakeholder and like

many others is ready to assist ZEC meaningfully through regular consultation. Sadly, our requests for consultative engagement between ZEC and stakeholders, including ourselves, have not been taken up, and we wonder why.

3. VoterEducationAwareness

The current voter education awareness campaign by is lukewarm. The law gives the Commission exclusive rights to determine the voter education time frame, particularly the involvement of civic society who traditionally is allowed to conduct voter education just a few months before a crucial election. This limitation, which is unnecessary, partly explains voter apathy and we urge ZEC to recognize its own limitations in the conduct of an effective voter education campaign, and to allow civic society to participate in voter education on an ongoing basis. The passive approach of ZEC has resulted in discouragement among the target group and a coordinated awareness campaign is needed to overcome this apathy.

4. Diaspora Vote

MDC-Alliance makes no apology for supporting the call to extend registration and voting facilities to Zimbabweans in the diaspora. No meaningful reasons, even financial have been put forward to explain this resistance by ZEC and the government. It is an open secret that the diaspora remittances back home have sustained families and contributed significantly to the nation in the supply of foreign exchange. You want their money but deny them the vote! MDC-Alliance is ready, as are other stakeholders, to input into practical arrangements for voter registration and voting facilities at designated points in the diaspora. Several countries do it and once again these Zimbabweans only want similar measures to be implemented.

5. Voting Rights for Marginalized Communities

MDC-Alliance notes with serious concern the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities that fail to acquire identity documents for various reasons. A case in point is some descendants of civilians that perished during the terrible gukurahundi in the 1980s, especially in the Matebeleland. These undocumented citizens continue to live on the edge of society and their successive generations will also be marginalized unless central government steps in with a programme to regularize the citizenship rights of affected persons, by issuing identity documents. We intend to tackle the question of National Identity Documents as a standalone issue in a future submission, because there is more than meets the eye.

6. Delimitation

MDC-Alliance has learnt through the media that the delimitation timeframes set by ZEC will see the delimitation report being finalized by December 2022. This is effectively 6 months (at best) before the 2023 Harmonized Elections. The population census, brought forward to 2021 was correctly slated to enfranchise more people. This ZEC time frame however is clearly calculated such that the resulting delimitation report cannot to be implemented in time for the 2023 elections. The law provides that a delimitation report should be finalized six months before the forthcoming elections, failure of which the country will hold elections using the old boundaries.

Delimitation results are very critical to determining ward and constituency boundaries, taking into account voter density for each ward or constituency. It is clear from the 2018 Elections that we have constituencies that are too big and some too small, and there is a case for addressing such disparities before the 2023 Harmonized Elections. We urge ZEC to use the powers they have and ensure that new boundaries are drawn up which reflect current population realities and that these are factored in for the 2023 Harmonized Elections. Zimbabweans await a clearer statement in this regard and that this process is seen to be transparent to the nation and in particular, to stakeholders.

7. Summary of MDC-Alliance Proposals on Voter Registration

  • ZEC should decentralize voter registration by setting up a permanent registration centre in each ward. Each such centre, acting as a mobile unit, should periodically visit and register voters at polling stations.
  • ZEC should implement measures to clear the backlog of unregistered youths who have become of voting age since the 2018 elections
  • On voter education, ZEC should arrange for civic society to participate in voter education on an ongoing basis, increasing national coverage and overcoming voter apathy.
  • On the Diaspora, Government, through ZEC, should extend voting rights to citizens in the diaspora and put in place logistics that enable citizens to vote from designated host nations.
  • Similarly, prisoners and the hospitalized should also enjoy their voting rights, and therefore logistics should also be put in place to enable them to register to vote and vote if they so wish.
  • On delimitation, ZEC should commit to factoring in the 2021 population census as input into electoral boundaries when they are drawn up for the 2023 harmonized elections8. ConclusionDuring our last interaction with the press we undertook to engage in a national discourse on reforms, necessary for an election outcome that is not contested and tabled our 20 Principles for Electoral Reforms, PRICE. In this instalment we have raised several issues relating to voter registration and we urge stakeholders to engage with us, with ZEC and with the nation on these serious matters. In particular we strongly urge ZEC to do their job as mandated by the law. A key success factor for ZEC is the number of persons that they register. Currently the backlog is in excess of 1 million, mainly young people and it would be a tragedy if this demographic group were to remain on the margins of the democratic process, to which we have all committed.I thank you all for turning up and look forward to our next interaction where again we take on other reform issues that require attention before the next elections.Thank you.