ERC hails progress towards electoral transparency

The Election Resource Centre (ERC) – an independent electoral management body, has welcomed progress made by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) towards enhancing transparency.

In a statement, the ERC welcomed Statutory Instrument 85 (S.I. 85) of 2017 that was gazetted by ZEC on the 21st of July 2017 which outlines new voter registration regulations ahead of the 2018 harmonised elections, and provides nine fundamental provisions for voter registration namely; proof of identity and citizenship, proof of residence, registration offices and centres, procedure for registration, control of persons in premises used for registration of voters, voters’ rolls, inspection of voters’ rolls, certification of voters’ rolls, provision and cost of voters’ rolls and maps.

“The ERC asserts that the statutory instrument contains a number of progressive clauses that provide a fundamental step in the right direction. However, the ERC has identified various grey areas that require clarity from ZEC considering that some issues such as strong oversight mechanisms towards enhancement of transparency, accountability, and credibility of electoral processes remain outstanding. Notwithstanding that the regulations provide clarity on administrative procedures for voter registration, they fall short in ensuring that election stakeholders witness this clarity when implementation is taking place, hence they are inward looking,” ERC said.

Through the regulations, ZEC emphasises that citizenship is a key determinant to one’s eligibility to register as a voter, thus listing the national identity document (metal or plastic), a green waiting pass and a valid Zimbabwean passport as only documents acceptable for proof of identity. Documents which may constitute proof of residence are also clearly laid down in the regulations including “residence affidavits” by persons who might fail to obtain residence documents. Punitive measures on those who make false statements on their affirmations for residence are indicated. Further, the regulations clarify that interested citizens are allowed to apply for any copy of the voters’ roll through the ZEC Chief Election Officer (CEO), while costs for purchasing voters’ rolls at polling station, ward, constituency and national level are laid down. Following ZEC`s take-over of the voter registration function from the former Registrar General of Voters, the voter registration regulations designate all ZEC offices at national, provincial and district level to become registration centers and provide for possible set up of non-permanent mobile registration centers, among other provisions contained in the regulations.

The ERC contends that the voter registration regulations are progressive to a large extent but their implementation in fulfillment of principles of voter registration is hampered by lack of clear mechanisms for stakeholder participation and oversight. Fundamentally, this dampens the integrity of electoral processes as transparency and accountability mechanisms are not enshrined in the regulations.

The ERC urges ZEC to provide:

1.      Clarity on location of district voter registration centers – The regulations lack necessary emphasis on time and days when registration offices and centers shall be open to the public. The clause gives little detail, but leaves it to ZEC discretion. The ERC therefore expects that the district registration centers will be permanent and tied to the continuous nature of voter registration in accordance with Section 17A of the Electoral Act.

2.      Clarity on addressing issues of access by persons with disability, infirm and the elderly who might be unable to visit ZEC designated registration offices and centres. Further, the ERC requires clarity on the procedure of registration for persons with disability. Such individuals might not have limbs for finger prints or are visually impaired. Leaving this to administrative discretion by the Voter Registration Officer defeats the principles of inclusivity and access to voter registration.

3.      Clarity on the role to be played by police during voter registration process. The ERC seeks a defined role of the police in this process as such silence opens for potential conflict in the event that the police is later included to be present at voter registration centres. The ERC reiterates that the police have no administration role in electoral processes, their role must be confined to maintenance of law and order.

4.      Clarity on misuse of information obtained from voter registers by members of the public during inspection. In particular the regulations should state whether the information may or may not be used for campaign activities of political parties and candidates, for police investigations or for commercial and other purposes.

5.      Clarity on the administrative process to be undertaken by the Commission in both compiling the voter register and subsequent measures of ensuring accuracy of the compiled voters’ roll. That data cleaning and compilation process must be open to stakeholder scrutiny. However the regulations are not clear as to the expected degree of involvement in the compilation process by citizen observers, political parties or the media. Transparency mechanisms need to be enhanced during the process of compiling the voters’ roll.

6.      Facilitates “ease of registration” for citizens of Zimbabwe, formerly deemed “aliens” owing to situations where at least one of their parents is of foreign descent, who could have failed to regularize citizenship due to varying constraints. ZEC`s acceptance for former “aliens” to register must be premised on the Constitution of Zimbabwe which already recognizes them as citizens. One`s enjoyment of constitutional rights must not be undermined by administrative obstacles.

“Amidst such progressive adjustments to the regulatory framework for voter registration, the big question that remains unanswered is;“where are the observers and election agents?”as ZEC administers electoral processes. Clearly the oversight role of observers and political party poll watchers is obscure.”