The government is intent on denying Zimbabweans based in the diaspora their right to vote by saying the country’s constitution does not allow the setting up of constituencies outside the country’s borders.
For decades, Zimbabweans living and working abroad have been calling for a diaspora vote, arguing it was their right to vote and participate in electoral processes.
In 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged to extend voting rights to millions of Zimbabweans abroad but that has not happened while analysts believe there is no political will to implement that as the ruling party ‘fears’ the political preference of Zimbabweans based in the Diaspora.
However, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi, said according to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the country’s electoral system is constituency-based within the country.
“In terms of Section 160 of the Constitution, there are 210 constituencies and they are all located within the boundaries of the country. The Constitution does not mandate the setting up of constituencies outside the borders of Zimbabwe,” he said while responding to questions from legislator Godfrey Sithole on plans set aside to make sure that citizens in the Diaspora cast their vote in national elections.
The justice minister said the country’s courts also recognised that Zimbabwe had no foreign constituencies.
“As decided by the courts in the Gabriel Shumba case, the courts recognised that our country does not have foreign constituencies as of now and since the Constitution does not envisage constituencies beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, it follows that no voter’s roll can exist outside the 210 constituencies into which Zimbabwe is divided for voting purposes,” Ziyambi claimed.
He highlighted that Zimbabwe currently had no legislative framework that regulates voting by citizens in the diaspora.
“If a person requires to vote, he has to be registered in a constituency within Zimbabwe whereby the residential requirement is among the voter registration requirements provided for by our electoral law,” said the justice minister, adding that the residence requirement was a requirement for citizens whether locally based or abroad.
“It is also important to note that the residence requirement is not a requirement strictly for persons in the diaspora as it also affects those who live in Zimbabwe. For example, a person who no longer lives in the Hatfield Constituency for the relevant period will not be allowed to vote in that constituency’s elections, notwithstanding that they still live in Zimbabwe though living in a different constituency, for example, an area in the Harare North Constituency.
“In this regard, the residence requirements are not directed or targeted to exclude the diaspora vote as is the assumption by many.”
On the corrective measures put in place to make sure that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) does not continue to move voters from their registered polling station without their consent, Ziyambi claimed ZEC had not received a formal report on the matter.
“The Commission advises that it is not aware of any formal report wherein it has been alleged that it has moved voters from their registered polling stations without their consent. What the Commission is aware of are the powers granted to it by Section 35 of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13], which provides that a voters’ roll may be altered,” he said, explaining, “The voters’ roll may be altered by the commission at any time to correct any error or omission or to change the original name or address of the voter to an altered name or address.”
Ziyambi said the process to alter was done by the voter registration officer at any time, by correcting any obvious mistake or omission, or by changing on the written application of a voter, the original name or address of the voter to an altered name or address.
“In the case of an alteration in terms of subsection (1) made otherwise than on the oral or written application of a voter, notice of the alteration shall be published in the Gazette by the Commission or voter registration officer as the case may be,” the justice minister said.
“It further provides in subsection 3 of the same section that where a voter who is aggrieved by a decision of the commission or a voter registration officer under this section, may appeal against the decision to a designated magistrate of the province on whose voters roll the voter is or prior to the alteration registered.
The justice minister indicated that with the above background, ZEC has recommended that where there are known incidents of voters moved from their polling stations without their consent, a formal report be filed within the voters’ ZEC provincial offices.
“Or an appeal of any decision of an alteration made by the Commission or voter registration officer be made to a designated magistrate within the affected voter’s province,” he summed.