HARARE – Opposition parties and civic society groups have warned that President Robert Mugabe’s proclamation of the voter registration commencement this week and giving its cutoff date will compromise the credibility of the crucial elections due next year.
This comes as opposition parties suspect that Mugabe wants to have elections held early next year.
Mugabe and Zanu PF have made considerable progress in putting the building blocks for early 2018 elections after he ordered new voter registration in all wards across the country starting from September 14 and ending on January 15 next year.
“There are other legal problems with the proclamation: It implies a total cut-off date for registration on the new rolls, but the Electoral Act provides for continuous registration until 12 days after nomination day.
“If biometric registration is to start soon, Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) needs to clarify a great number of issues on which the public is confused. There should be a clear procedural manual that they should follow and this should be made available to the public.
“The Electoral Act needs to be brought into line with the Constitution, immediately,” Legal and Parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, warned.
The country’s largest independent election observer group — Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) — warned that an early election would raise question marks on the fairness and credibility of the much anticipated 2018 election.
“An early election will affect the quality of the voter register. It will be a rushed product not subjected to enough time for objections, inspection and audit by key stakeholders.
“Using 2013 voters roll which has not been made public to date will erode public confidence and a likely replay of 2013 elections which were compromised by the problematic voter registration process and voter roll,’ said Zesn national director, Rindai Chipfunde Vava.
MDC said Zec must be given enough time to carry out a thorough and transparent voter registration exercise.
“What we demand is a situation whereby Zec is given adequate time to carry out a thorough and transparent Biometric Voters Registration (BVR) exercise to enable all eligible Zimbabweans to register to vote.
“There is absolutely no need for hurrying through the BVR exercise if this will lead to us not having a reliable and credible national voters’ roll,” said MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu.
“Zec has not come out very clear to advise and clarify to the nation whether they would be able to complete the BVR exercise in this space of time as gazetted by Mugabe.”
“There is a lot of vagueness surrounding the issue of whether Zec, as the constitutional body mandated with the responsibility of running elections in Zimbabwe, is actually ready for this exercise,” added Gutu.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson Jacob Mafume said although his party was ready for early elections, Zec was not prepared.
“As the opposition we have to get ready for an election at any time. However this is one of the reforms we need, the election date should not be at the mercy of Zanu PF.
“It should be known in advance and a product of an independent body such as Zec.
“Zec is not prepared and it will not be able to comply with the Constitution and the electoral laws,” Mafume claimed.
Mugabe last week announced the dates and cut off period for voter registration.
Voter registration opens on Thursday and closes in January next year.
Zec has been in the past accused of aiding Mugabe and Zanu PF by rigging elections and opposition parties coalescing under the banner of the Zimbabwe National Electoral Reform Agenda (Zinera), want comprehensive electoral reform before next year’s elections are held.
In 2008, Zec was heavily criticised for delaying the release of election results by six weeks — leading to accusations that it had tampered with the ballot to save Mugabe who, for the first time since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — lost an election when he fell to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai, however, failed to win an outright majority of 50 percent plus one vote and was forced into a runoff in which he pulled from days before polling citing massive violence against his supporters.
Mugabe would go on to stage a one-man election in which he declared himself the winner in a move widely condemned by the international community whose disquiet influenced a power sharing agreement that led to the formation of a government of national unity in February 2009.