Drivers’ licence impasse in Electoral Bill debate
Zvamaida Murwira-Senior Reporter
Parliament is next week expected to resume debate on contentious clauses in the Electoral Amendment Bill after a marathon and heated sitting which started on Thursday afternoon last week went into early Friday morning as legislators could not find common ground.
Debate on whether driver’s licences can be accepted as proof of identification in forthcoming harmonised elections dominated proceedings in the National Assembly.
Legislators were divided on whether driver’s licences could be accepted as identification documents when voting, with Zanu PF Members of Parliament rallying behind Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi to reject their use, while those from the opposition CCC party said there would be no prejudice suffered should they be used.
Debate on the Bill lasted beyond Thursday midnight after the National Assembly adopted a motion by Minister Ziyambi to suspend automatic adjournment at 6.55pm so that they could deal with an array of amendments that had been proposed by opposition lawmakers.
Some of the proposed amendments were rejected, while others were deferred, with compromises being made on several proposed amendments either to accept them or to have the mover withdraw.
It was, however, the use of drivers licence that dominated debate the whole night with legislators proffering varied opinions on it.
In the end, the National Assembly agreed to reject an amendment by Dzivaresekwa MP Mr Edwin Mushoriwa proposing for their acceptance.
The Electoral Amendment Bill will operationalise the latest constitutional amendments for the election of 10 youth members of the National Assembly, one from each province, as well as the continued election of 60 women, six from each province, to the National Assembly under a party-list system.
It will extend the new constitutional provisions for the election of women on a party-list system to provincial councils and local authorities, and will prevent people from being nominated for election if they have been convicted of certain offences.
The Bill seeks to stop the use of driver’s licences as proof of identity by persons who register as voters and those who obtain ballot papers at polling stations.
During debate, it was argued that only identification documents issued by vital national State organs like the Registrar General’s Office should be used, while others felt that since driver’s licences were issued by Government department, the Central Vehicle Registry, they could be accepted.
Opposition legislators, led by Harare East MP Mr Tendai Biti, said given that on voting day, one would have already registered to vote, drivers license would still be ideal since it carried most of the required details and bore one’s photograph.
Minister Ziyambi, however, differed.
“I agree that it is national, but it is not from our vital registration organisation. Ordinarily, the proof that we require almost everywhere is from the Registrar-General which is the identification document and the passport,” said Minister Ziyambi.
“The argument that you are already registered, we are not even talking about that. The registration process is a separate issue and this also arose from the observers. Ordinarily, when you want to get a passport, you cannot go with a driver’s licence. You need to go with your identity card as proof, but the information will be there in the database.”
He said allowing the use of drivers license might set a bad precedent as one might eventually want to bring documents like work related identification documents.
Buhera South MP Cde Joseph Chinotimba (Zanu PF) said driver’s licence were not prudent to use given the prevalence of fake documents.
“The police right now are busy arresting people who are making fake driver’s licences, but we have not seen a lot of cases of fake identity cards except the driver’s licence. There are not so many people in this country who have driver’s licences but all have national identity cards,” said Cde Chinotimba.
Makoni North MP Cde James Munetsi (Zanu PF) concurred with Cde Chinotimba.
In advocating for the use of drivers licence, Mutare Central MP Mr Innocent Gonese (CCC) said there had been instances where one would lose their national identification documents just before an election.
Some of the issue that dominated debate was whether or not those in the diaspora should be allowed to vote, an amendment that had been proposed by Mr Gonese.
In his contribution, Mr Gonese submitted that voting is a right conferred to every citizen.
In response, Makoni South MP Cde Misheck Mataranyika (Zanu PF) said allowing people in the diaspora to vote would create an uneven playing field because some candidates were unable to go and campaign in certain areas such as the United States, Britain and the European Union because of sanctions imposed on them.
“Until and unless they tell us the mechanism on how we can have a level playing field in terms of our reach to those in the diaspora, some of us are on sanctions,” said Cde Mataranyika.
The proposed amendment was one of those that were deferred to allow further debate.