2018 Elections: Prisoners, diasporans disenfranchised

Source: 2018 Elections: Prisoners, diasporans disenfranchised – DailyNews Live

Maxwell Sibanda  23 October 2017

HARARE – As Zimbabwe fast approaches the 2018 elections there are fears
among pro democracy groups, civil and political activists, and opposition
political parties that the ruling Zanu PF government will not put in place
mechanisms to allow special groups like prisoners and those living in the
Diaspora to vote based on technical operational arguments rather than the
legality point of view.

Apart from the Diaporans and the prisoners, thousands of Zimbabweans who
are blind will have to be assisted to vote in 2018 because Zimbabwe’s
voting system does not provide for Braille ballot papers.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that all citizens of Zimbabwe have
got the right to vote; essentially meaning that even those Zimbabweans who
live in the Diaspora and prisoners have the right to vote.

Ironically, ideals of democracy like “one man, one vote,” were at the core
of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and motivated young men and women who
abandoned everything to cross the borders to fight for a better Zimbabwe
for all.

Therefore the right for Zimbabwean citizens to vote is a basic principle
of electoral democracy which must not be subject to unreasonable
restrictions.

Denying prisoners and those in Diaspora the right to vote when the
Constitution allows them is illegal, unjust and an act of rigging.

Diaspora Vote

There are an estimated three million people living in the Diaspora who
will not be able to vote, most of these who were displaced by political
violence while others are seeking economic opportunities abroad after the
failure of the national economy.

Since all these Zimbabweans were forced out of the country by Zanu PF’s
policies, chances are that in the event of any election they will vote for
opposition political parties.

The ruling government, cognizant of this fact, has made it difficult for
the Diaspora vote citing various flimsy logistical problems.

While there is no law in Zimbabwe that prohibits those living outside the
country from voting, the ruling government has been giving excuses and
only allowing those working at their embassies that right.

They vote through what they call the postal vote which they cast at local
embassies/consulates and ballots are then posted to Zimbabwe.

Three million voters would be a big game changer in Zimbabwe’s politics
and the ruling Zanu PF knows that because the party announced that in
preparation for the 2018 elections, it is ambitiously targeting at least
five million potential voters for registration.

In the 2013 elections a total of 3,4 million Zimbabweans cast their vote
with the ruling party garnering just over two million while the opposition
got more than one million. The Diaspora voters did not take part.

So the Diaspora vote can easily twist any elections in Zimbabwe in favour
of the opposition and the ruling Zanu PF has over the years barred this
block from casting their votes.

It is also a double-faced act that while the Zimbabwean government is
disenfranchising those in the Diaspora of their right to vote, the
Zimbabwean economy is propelled by financing from their remittances. In
2016 those living in the Diaspora remitted $1 billion.

Prisoners Vote

Another group that will not vote and that has not been allowed to vote
since independence are the prisoners.

According to the Justice ministry, currently they are more than 19 000
prisoners in Zimbabwe and these are not allowed to vote although again,
like the Diaspora voters, there is no law in the country that bars them
from casting their vote.

Zimbabwe Election Commission, a government body that runs elections in the
country has given flimsy reasons as to why they cannot allow prisoners to
vote. But democracy provides that all people in Zimbabwe must freely
exercise and enjoy their constitutional rights to freedom of association.

The prison conditions in Zimbabwe are so bad, rough and food is scarce
that the ruling Zanu PF knows fully well that this voting bloc will vote
for the opposition political parties.

Zimbabwean prisoners are citizens too, going through rehabilitation and
have a right to vote.

They are not disenfranchised by the Constitution because Section 86 of the
Constitution provides that “fundamental rights and liberties may only be
limited in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that
the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a
democratic society.”

Essentially, therefore, it is unreasonable and unjustifiable to deny
prisoners the right to vote. In the recent elections that were held in
Kenya, prisoners were allowed to vote while in South Africa, in recent
years prisoners have been voting after winning that right through a
Constitutional Court ruling.

The Blind

A total of 125 000 people in Zimbabwe are registered as blind and twice
that number are visually impaired.

Government has over the years deliberately made life difficult for the
blind because of the absence of Braille on election related material. In
fact, right from political campaigns to the day of voting there is
absolutely no literature in Braille.

Political parties in Zimbabwe have also ignored the blind’s concerns;
hence this block has to rely on others to read for them any election
information.

Because of the absence of Braille ballot papers, the electoral law says
blind voters are assisted to vote by officers presiding over polling
stations, in the presence of a police officer and agents of contesting
political parties.

But opposition parties and election monitoring bodies have in the past
accused the ruling Zanu PF of using assisted voters to steal votes.

While Zimbabwe is considered among the most literate countries in Africa
with a literacy rate of more than 90 percent, in 2013 elections the
African Union observers noted a worryingly “high number of assisted voters
in many polling stations nationwide”.

While it is not only the blind who can be assisted as assisted voting is
intended to also help the illiterate or the infirm cast their ballots,
suspiciously, at least

200 000 most of them claiming to be illiterate were assisted to vote in
the 2013 poll.

Election experts have called on Parliament and Zimbabwe Election
Commission to push for a change of laws governing casting of assisted
votes, following a large number of assisted votes in the 2013 general
elections.

They want authorities to amend constitutional provisions relating to
assisted voting ahead of the 2018 elections, as the current ones are prone
to abuse.

Conclusion

Since Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013, the government has
refused to align the Electoral Act with the Constitution.

This year concerned stakeholders and fellow civil society petitioned the
Parliament of Zimbabwe over administrative lethargy in Government and the
piecemeal approach to the review of the Electoral Law.

But even with the petitioners beseeching the Parliament demanding that
Zimbabwe’s Electoral Law be reviewed in compliance with the provisions of
the Constitution and that a legal framework is put in place that
guarantees an undisputed electoral process, nothing has been action.

The challenge in Zimbabwe is that there is absolutely no political will
from the authorities to remove unreasonable limitations to voting rights
and yet the essence of the liberation struggle was to break down these
barriers on the basis of the mantra of ‘one man one vote’ to enable
everyone to participate in the public affairs of their country.

The rules for Zimbabwean elections are so skewed against free and fair
participation; those running the elections are controlled by those running
for election. The environment in which elections are conducted is often
characterized by suppression of free will.

Always as Zimbabweans approach elections they are reminded of that which
inspired the waging of a war of liberation in the 70s; that which
compelled young people then, to take up arms and determine their destiny.

There is no doubt that part of struggle of independence was for
self-determination through an equal suffrage.

The belief then was that the struggle, if won, would guarantee one man one
vote, something which is not happening today.

While the right to vote is recognised in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the
Electoral Law has not ensured that the right is enjoyed by Zimbabweans in
prisons, at home and abroad.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 2
  • comment-avatar
    Chatham House 5 years ago

    This is excellent news. Yu could not have the diaspora having any say in any matter – it is all up to Robert Mugabe and Iain Scoones -and of course Lord Soames’ young lad? The diaspora must be kept in their place – they must just pay for Zanu and all its excesses? Zanu will exchange the Bond Notes for the hard cash from the the diapsora?

  • comment-avatar

    DENYING 3 MILLION DIASPORA VOTE IS WILL TECHNICALLY NULLIFY LEGITIMACY OF THE VOTE.I THINK THE WORLD AND ALL ZIMBABWEANS MUST FORCE/REMIND ZANU PF THAT THIS IS TIME TO ALLOW ALL ZIMBABWEANS TO VOTE.CIVIC GROUPS AND LAWYERS MUST PUT PRESSURE LEGALLY AND FORCE THE GOVT TO FOLLOW CONSTITUTION AND IDEALS OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE