Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
Preparations for the 2018 harmonised elections have started, with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announcing yesterday that it will soon embark on a nationwide voter registration exercise to capture names of prospective voters.
Zec chairperson Justice Rita Makarau said during a feedback meeting with various stakeholders and political parties that the organisation was working on logistical arrangements to kick off the massive exercise.
The feedback meeting involved Zec updating the stakeholders on the pilot voter registration exercises that were carried out in Mt Darwin West and Chirumanzu-Zibagwe constituencies recently, as a precursor to the national registration of voters.
“All that we are doing now is in preparation for 2018,” said Justice Makarau. “I thought one of you would stand up and say, ‘Zec, stop registering voters’, and I did not hear that, so I will record it as an emerging consensus that yes, Zec should proceed with the pilot exercise and register as many voters as it possibly can.
“Again, an emerging consensus is that we must continue with the dialogue . . . at the end of the day, if the product is good it belongs to you and if it is bad, Zec will take responsibility for the product.
“Because you have given us a vote of confidence that what we are doing appears to be good, we appear to be in the right direction, so I will venture now to say we have been given the green-light to pilot this on a national level and we will start registering voters nationally as soon as logistical arrangements are put in place.”
The new Constitution empowers Zec to compile and maintain the voters’ roll and the electoral body has carried out pilot registration exercises to test its systems in constituencies where by-elections have been conducted.
Justice Makarau took the opportunity to explain why Zec had changed from its initial stance that it would not carry out registration of new voters unless enabling legislation had been put in place.
“There are two schools of thought on this one,” she said. “One says in the absence of the legislative framework, Zec cannot rely on the constitutional provisions alone (to register voters).
“The other one says no, the constitutional provision is adequate and you read the other laws that are in existence to be in conformity with the Constitution and where those laws contradict the Constitution, you read them as pro non scripto (as if they were not written).
“We have those two positions confronting Zec and we are saying one of them is correct. But before a determination is made, we in Zec, we don’t know which one is correct and we will proceed to register voters until we are stopped by a court order that explains our U-turn.”
Justice Makarau said that Zec was consulting other electoral management bodies in the region to adopt appropriate technologies in the compilation of the voters’ roll.
“Are we going to come up with a new compilation? Yes we are,” she said.
“We are looking into the Sadc region to see what technology our sister EMBs are employing and we are trying to borrow some of that technology and expertise again on a pilot basis to see which one suits us.”
Justice Makarau reiterated that Zec would continue using the old voters’ roll as the basis for its registration exercise.
“Are we coming with a new voters’ roll? I have an ambiguous answer to that, yes and no,” she said. “Yes in the sense that the voters’ roll that is coming is new to Zec, Zec has never had a voters’ roll of its own.
“So, it’s new to us, it’s new to Zec. Zec has never had a voters’ roll before, all the faults in that voters’ roll should you find ghost workers or ghost voters on that voters’ roll, the faults will now be Zec’s faults and not the Registrar-General’s. In that sense it’s a new voters’ roll, it’s coming from a new body.
“Is it a new voters’ roll?
“No, it can’t be. Zimbabweans have not changed.
“We can’t create new people to put on the voters’ roll, so St Mary’s voters’ roll will still have Job Sikhala on it and to that it’s not a new voters’ roll. It’s just a voters’ roll that is being maintained or compiled by Zec.”
Justice Makarau said they would not adopt a new model of voter registration as it was clearly spelt out in the law.
“We are using the model that VaMudede (Registrar-General Mr Tobaiwa Mudede) used,” she said.
“The model of voter registration is laid out in the law. The law mandates us to carry out a continuous voter registration system.”
Justice Makarau defended the use of national identity cards to register voters, saying the document had proved reliable and challenged anyone with a better alternative to proffer it.
She urged people not to use their differences with Mr Mudede to besmirch the document.
“I don’t know if there is anyone without a national identity card, one that enables us to transact in a number of commercial activities,” said Justice Makarau. “It is a reliable document.
“The reason I am saying so is because most transactions that bind us as Zimbabweans are based on the ID and we have had very few complaints about the security and integrity of the ID. Why I am raising this issue is because our voter registration system is also based on that document.
“Yes, we may not like VaMudede, but most of us flash the ID left, right and centre and it’s actually the document that gives us our identity and we in Zec thought it is the document we could use as the basis for starting our voter registration exercise.
“We are using the ID number because we are told it’s unique, it’s yours and yours alone and we are saying it’s a good basis to give you a voter registration identity.
“But you can come back and tell us that there is another document we can use, let’s use our degree certificates those who have them and those who don’t have them, our clinic cards.
“We have to come up with a document that all Zimbabweans agree on.”