Passage of the Electoral Amendment Bill by Parliament last week gives impetus to the assurances by President Mnangagwa to stakeholders that his Government is committed to free and fair elections this year.
The Bill seeks to amend sections of the Electoral Act and to complete an alignment of certain provisions of the Act with the national Constitution. It also seeks to ensure the smooth running of the new registration of voters proclaimed by the President under Statutory Instrument 109 (2017) on September 8, 2017. The registration blitz of voters began on September 14, 2017 and ran until January 15, 2018 (A mop-up voter registration exercise was conducted and those who have not registered are still able to do so up this day).
Mr Speaker Sir, passage of the Electoral Amendment Bill coincides with the arrival of international observers who are already in the country to make preliminary assessments.
A delegation from comesa is already in the country and met Government officials that include Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Lieutenant-General Dr Sibusiso Moyo (Retired) yesterday, as part of their preparatory work before they send an observer mission
A sadc delegation visited Harare recently, also to make preparatory work to observe the harmonised elections.
This comes as Government has invited more than 46 international observers to come and follow the country’s general elections. President Mnangagwa has declared that he wants free and fair elections and that his administration has nothing to hide from the international community.
Mr Speaker Sir, what is striking about the list of international observers is that Government has invited countries and organisations that had been barred by the previous administration led by Robert Mugabe.
They include the European Union and other Western countries who had not been invited since around the 2000 polls, following a dispute between the Government and Britain and its allies over the land reform programme
The decision to invite these countries, Mr Speaker Sir, is clear testimony that the Government is committed to hold free, transparent, credible and fair elections as pledged by the President.
It is also refreshing that President Mnangagwa has used every public platform to emphasise his commitment to the attainment of credible polls and denounce violence.
The expectation is that those countries and organisations reciprocate by discharging their work professionally and be as objective as possible.
A reading of the Electoral Amendment Bill, which now awaits Presidential assent, shows that indeed Government is committed to deliver credible polls.
The MDC-T made proposals to the Bill, which were debated extensively in Parliament. Some of the proposals were accepted while others could not find their way into the final Bill.
Mr Speaker Sir, what is critical here is that Government was magnanimous enough to invite amendments to strengthen the law
What is also important is that the proposed amendments were duly and thoroughly debated and Government acceded to some of them.
This clearly demonstrates its commitment to a free and fair election.
In his Second Reading speech during debate on the Bill in the Senate last week, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the proposed law was a compromise made by political parties and civic groups.
“Madam President, this Bill represents a compromise which was reached between Government and stakeholders in the electoral process, namely opposition parties, the Zimbabwe Institute, the Women’s Lobby whose spokesperson was Honourable Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga. This led to the inclusion Madam President of gender mainstreaming in electoral processes as one of the additional functions of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC),” said Minister Ziyambi.
“In addition, this Bill requires that voter education be conducted in a gender sensitive manner with due regard for the electoral code of conduct for political parties and candidates prescribed in the fourth schedule.
“The Bill also enlarges the observers accreditation committee by the addition of a representative by the Minister responsible for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development. Hence, the Bill requires ZEC to enhance gender equality to the extent in which it is able to do so within its constitutional mandate.”
Minister Ziyambi said the Bill started with only five clauses, but ended up with 37 and a schedule on the electoral code of conduct.
“I am also confident to mention that ZEC has been consulted and their recommendations have been incorporated in this Bill. This requirement is adhered to in terms of Section 157 (4) of the Constitution.
“Madam President, the Bill introduces provisions that cater for the envisaged new voter registration system that we often refer to as the Bio-Metric Voter Registration System. For this purpose, ZEC is in the course of implementing or has been implementing a new Bio-Metric Voter Registration exercise requiring all persons eligible for registration to present themselves to a voter registration officer, fill in a voter registration claim form and have their bio-metric features taken.”
It is also worthwhile to note, Mr Speaker Sir, that the Bill enables ZEC to establish two or more independent polling stations to serve the same polling station and to split the voters’ roll for that area between such polling stations if ZEC finds that the estimated number of voters to be served by any polling station exceeds the number determined by it to be manageable.
“What this does is, we now have polling station-based voting, so if ZEC determines that the number that have registered at a particular polling station is large, they can split that polling station and have satellite polling stations and this amendment seeks to give effect to that exercise,” said Minister Ziyambi.
The Bill also facilitates and speeds up voter registration by making claim forms available even prior to registration day and allows claimants to complete the forms themselves unless they specifically ask for the assistance of a registration officer to complete it for them.
Mr Speaker Sir, you will recall that the previous position was that the registration officer had to complete it on behalf of a claimant.
For convenience, a potential voter is free to register at any voter registration centre anywhere in the country and details are then posted to their nearest voting centre determined electronically from their residential address.