Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora—
This columnist is a member of Zanu-PF. He leads and represents the party in the United Kingdom and Europe. Recently together with 14 other delegates from the UK he attended the party’s 16th Annual Conference in Masvingo.
A video from a closed session contributions was leaked to social media and there was blow back, hysteria and frankly ill-informed much ado about nothing. Among other things this columnist was accused of, was that he deferred discussion on the Diaspora vote and said in the meantime all those who wanted to vote should come and do so in Zimbabwe.
Some felt he did not represent their interests well there. The reality is that he attended the conference representing the interests of Zanu-PF and those of its members in the Diaspora. The position he presented was not only the current Zanu-PF position, but actually the legal position obtaining.
Now that the dust has settled, shall we then have a mature and sober discussion on this contentious matter. Let us explore the arguments being advanced by those who stand on the contesting sides of the argument. This is not the first time this column is covering this issue, but this week it will be approached from a completely different angle.
We will start by saying Zimbabwe allows any of its adult citizens to come and register to vote and participate in all its elections at designated places. However, the country does not send election material outside the country for its nationals based there, some of whom are permanently resident there and some of whom have already adopted the citizenship of their hosting countries.
There is a loud call from both within and outside the country for Zimbabwe to do just that. The Constitution has been cited by many as the basis for that argument. Many have particularly cited S155 which says, (among many other things) that the “State must ensure that all eligible citizens are registered to vote”.
It also says that every citizen who is eligible to cast that vote in an election or referendum should be given an opportunity to cast that vote — S155 (2b).
It is on this basis that they say the State has an obligation to facilitate for the registration of voters, whichever country they are resident in. They argue further that The Fourth Schedule gives two qualifications for one’s eligibility to vote.
The first is that one must be a citizen of Zimbabwe. Secondly, they must be aged 18 and older. These are the primary basis on which they believe that the State is obligated to send ballots to London, Johannesburg or any other far off places where Zimbabweans reside.
The State’s view is that this is stretching the meaning intended by the Constitution. In making their argument, those who see a different view say that the State is obligated to register any citizen who presents themselves to register to vote at the designated registering places.
It is also obligated to allow that person to vote when they present at a designated polling station where their name is registered to vote.
This is regardless of whether they ordinarily stay in Thailand, China or Dubai.
But that is not to say that the State should send election infrastructure and material to these far off places. One of the arguments cited is the resource limitation.
But we will put that aside and deal with the legal arguments and then touch on both the material and moral arguments.
Those opposed to this “transnational voting” argue that the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution also empowers the Electoral Laws to prescribe “additional residential requirements”. In this case the Electoral Act as amended in May 2015, says that one must be resident in a constituency at the time of registration (S23).
Zimbabwe has 210 constituencies and none outside the country. So based on the Electoral Act, which a lot believe is in compliance with the supreme law, people can only vote in their registered constituencies and not outside.
The compliance of the Electoral Act with the Constitution has never been contested in the Constitutional Court and this columnist is not aware of any such impending challenges. This is possibly because of the realisation that the Government is standing on solid ground.
So from a legal point of view, it appears that the case for a transnational vote is not there. This is why this debate was deferred much to the chagrin of fellow Diasporans. The party has a clear position on it. The statutes have a clear position on it too.
But this is not only about a legal argument. There is a moral argument that has also been offered.
That is Diaspora sends hundreds of millions, and in a good year billions, in remittances to Zimbabwe. Is it such a big thing to ask for ballot material to be sent to wherever there is a large number of Zimbabwean citizens?
This argument is buttressed by the fact that moneys sent by the Diaspora to their families have averted many a catastrophe in Zimbabwe. From the 2007-2008 economic meltdown to the current challenges. Some have called the Diaspora remittances the “sanction busters”.
Not many people can argue against these assertions. Surely, without the help from family members who live outside Zimbabwe, it is not an exaggeration to say some households if not clans would have simply been “closed”. The Diaspora has indirectly contributed to the well-being of the country.
When money is sent to family members there is a major trickle-down effect in the economy and a major GDP booster. On this basis, it is argued that the Zimbabwean fiscus should budget for the expenses to bring the vote wherever there is a substantial body of Zimbabwean nationals’ resident.
This is where those opposed to this argument say that Diaspora remittances is emotional money. It is a sign of filial devotion. It is not a mark of patriotism. Paying taxes is a mark of patriotism, but not looking after your family members.
Examples are given of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora who have all their siblings in the Diaspora. These have nothing to do with the country the moment both their parents are deceased. They don’t send anymore remittances and the Government of Zimbabwe cannot do anything about it. They can use their disposable income anyhow and there is absolutely no consequence from the Government.
Compare this to someone who stays in Zimbabwe, conducts business in Zimbabwe or works in Zimbabwe. Paying taxes is not optional whereas Diaspora remittances are.
While some consider sending money home a family responsibility, some consider it an act of altruism. But nobody is known to have done this as a patriotic responsibility. The Government cannot come calling if its coffers are depleted (as they currently are).
They argue that while remittances play a major role in poverty reduction, they cannot be used to finance voter registration, voter education and the polling itself including the security of the vote.
It is interesting that some believe that one cannot talk about Diaspora issues without talking about the right to have a ballot on one’s doorstep. The obligation placed by the Constitution on the State is to make sure every Zimbabwean who present themselves at the designated places with the right documents should be allowed to register to vote.
When polling day comes and they present themselves at the designated place, they should be allowed to cast their vote. This is regardless of how long they have stayed outside the country. This is a very liberal rule which even countries like Great Britain do not allow.
In Britain, you cannot come back and register to vote if you have stayed out of the country for 15 years or more. They call it the 15-Year Rule. A lot of countries have a six-year rule. This means that one can only register to vote if they have stayed outside their home country for less than six years.
It might help to look at other examples in the so-called modern democracies. Canada has a Five-Year Rule. Australia, which is a country that forces its citizens to vote, has a Six-Year Rule. Germany is more liberal with a 25-Year Rule. And yet Zimbabwe has a “Life Time Rule”.
So for all intends and purposes, Zimbabwe has a more flexible rule than a lot if not all Western countries.
Most Zimbabweans in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand already vote there.
But for a country like Philippines, once you become eligible to vote in the country of your residence, you lose your right to vote in the home country.
Diaspora remittances are a life-saver, poverty alleviator, an opportunity creator, social capital of immense value and should be valued by the whole country.
But the truth is simply that they are not a sign of devotion to one’s country and should not be tied to the right to vote from outside the country.