THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has succumbed to pressure and agreed to allow political parties to observe the printing of ballot papers to be used in next month’s general elections, NewsDay can reveal.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA/NQOBANI NDLOVU
Amid objections and complaints from mainly opposition parties to continued secrecy around the identity of the printer of the contentious ballot paper, Zec’s acting chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana told NewsDay in an exclusive interview that the poll management body had an obligation to publicise the identity of the printer.
“I am a bit perplexed that this question continues to come. You will know that in terms of the law, Zec is supposed to publicise the printer, the place where the printer is located, the number of ballots to be printed and the distribution thereof. We have done this in previous elections and it will be done again in this election,” he said.
Silaigwana confirmed they had contracted a local company to print the ballot papers, but declined to name the company, although opposition parties claimed that Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Fidelity Printers were engaged to print the presidential ballots, while Government Printers would deal with the legislative and local government ballots.
“That process is still being finalised. The commission will try to afford the stakeholders, particularly the candidates, to go and witness the printing. There is no secret about it. It is a public process and we will not hide it. There are myths around the ballot and sometimes it boggles the mind. There is talk that there is some magical mystery around the ballot. The long and short of it is that it’s a just mischievous narrative,” he said.
The MDC Alliance fronted by Nelson Chamisa took to the streets last month demanding, among other things, the publication of the identity of the ballot printer, access to it and an audit of the voters’ roll.
“As means of compromise and to minimise conflict that was arising, the commission has decided to invite political parties contesting the elections to come and observe the process of printing the ballot paper. They will be allowed to test the paper,” Zec commissioner Qhubani Moyo said on Friday.
“Political parties will be allowed to use their experts in chromatography to see whether the paper allows for migration of a mark from candidate A to candidate B. We will run an exercise where we will give them (political parties) a paper and let them put an X on candidate A. The paper is going to be put in a place where it will be guarded for 12 hours and we want to see whether the following day the X would have migrated.”
Critics claim Zanu PF is planning to use the ballot paper to rig the forthcoming elections through “chromatography” defined as a process of separation of the individual components of a mixture based on their relative affinities towards stationary and mobile phases.
The 2013 elections controversially won by Zanu PF were marred by claims that a shadowy Israeli company known as Nikuv Projects had been contracted to come up with a ballot paper that allowed for “marks to move from one candidate to another”.
MDC-T secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora, whose party makes up the bigger chunk of the MDC Alliance grouping, said Zec’s move answers to his party’s demands.
“We are quite happy and this is what we have been demanding. The right to observe the printing of the ballot papers and also get them tested. However, we are waiting for the formal invitation from Zec,” he said.
But, Thokozani Khupe’s MDC-T faction was skeptical.
“While we welcome that development, more could be done. We should be able to scientifically audit everything and look at the ballot paper especially the security features to make sure we are satisfied that nobody will come up with their own counterfeit,” the party said.
The Joice Mujuru-led People’s Rainbow Coalition said: “We haven’t received any communication regarding that matter. It will be premature for PRC to say it is a good thing or not. But the idea of analysing the printing of the ballot papers is very important.”
Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu described Zec’s concession as “a cosmetic approach to ensuring free and fair elections”.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi (Zanu PF) recently rejected proposals for the floating of an open tender for the procurement of the ballot papers, claiming this was against the country’s current procurement provisions.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Welshman Ncube said opposition parties should be present throughout the whole process and assist in security provision to guard against vote manipulation.
“We need to ensure that we have agents at the printing process, throughout the process because allowing us to inspect the ballot papers being printed as a one-off issue is not enough. We must be there when they distribute the same so that we are sure if what we are seeing is what will be used on election day. Zec is not doing us a favour at all, but it is what is required to avoid mistrust,” he said