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By-elections went according to plan

03 Apr 2022 at 07:22hrs | Views
LAST week, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) held by-elections to fill 28 National Assembly seats and 122 council vacancies which had arisen due to opposition recalls as well as deaths. The much-anticipated election came and passed. Our Senior Reporter Leroy Dzenga (LD) had a conversation with ZEC spokesperson Commissioner Jasper Mangwana(JM) reflecting on the process.


LD: The country held by-elections on March 26. What was the commission's assessment of the process?

JM: As a commission, we were very happy with how the by-elections went. We were very much prepared, save for a few cases where some of our trained electoral officers were withdrawn at the last minute, as they were joining other Government programmes or going back to their polling stations. However, we managed to fill the numbers and the commission had 20 000 polling officers as originally intended.

The other unfortunate incidents were due to the rains. Some of the provinces were affected by rains, hence the movement and transmission of results from the polling stations to the ward collection centres and the constituency in Midlands, Matabeleland North and Mashonaland East was a bit of an issue.

However, we are happy that by Sunday the results were announced for both 122 local authorities and 28 national assemblies for the March 26 by-elections.

We have managed to improve on how we have been working. We advertised the voters' rolls outside the polling stations three days before polling day to ensure that the local people were able to go there and check, because we don't have ZEC offices everywhere. We only have 73 permanent offices in the country, hence we wanted to improve our visibility at polling areas because we cannot afford to establish polling offices at every area.

However, we had issues of people coming in to vote but not on the voters' roll because some people were very excited when they registered in Phase 1 of Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) blitz.

Many of them were turned away because they were not on the voters' roll because of the law, not because they were ineligible to vote, but maybe you registered to vote during the first blitz in February when the voters' roll for the by-election was closed. So, as a commission, we are going to intensify our voter education to ensure that these people are aware.

LD: How much did ZEC spend in holding the by-election?

JM: ZEC was allocated $3 billion. At the moment, we are consolidating to see the figures that were spent, but, however, we are glad to tell you that we never had resource constraints in doing this programme. We know there are images which circulated where the voters' roll was on the ground with stones on top.

That should not be interpreted as a sign of lack of resources on the commission's part. The commission will be considering some notice boards very soon. However, we usually use tents because some of these polling stations are in areas that are still under development.

LD: The campaign for the by-election process had a lot of tension. Is ZEC involved in any de-escalation processes or does it engage people after the event to bring back normalcy as an agency that conducts elections?

JM: What we have been doing before elections is what we call the multi-party liaison committees (MPLCs). This is a platform which is chaired by the commission, where all candidates and political parties contesting come together and discuss their differences and issues.

Currently, in our country, we don't have a framework for registration and regulation of political parties, so this is a provision of the law to ensure that we set up these MPLCs. This is where the differences are discussed and people actually air their views and agree as political actors to say let us all agree in this direction.

Another issue I will raise to your attention is that the commission does not control the campaign environment, which is why political parties do not notify the commission when they do their rallies, but there are laws and provisions on where they are supposed to go when they do those.

LD: During the run-up to the election, there were politicians and online personalities who raised a number of issues with ZEC, including the voters' roll. Does ZEC have an open channel for people to raise their complaints?

JM: Section 25 and Section 28 of the Electoral Act says voters can raise objections with ZEC. If you think that a person who registered with the commission was not supposed to register or does not live on the address they gave the commission, people can approach us and we look into the matter.

However, there is no law which limits the number of people who can reside in one place. In high-density suburbs, there can be many families at one house, and people move within the same area. All these variables can cause a house to have many registrants.

LD: There were claims that some individuals had their details changed without their consent or knowledge only for them to find out at the polling station. Does the commission know of such incidences?

JM: Most of these issues were being raised on social media, but we were not getting the actual registrants coming to us with their national ID (identity document) and raising their issues with us directly.

We would have appreciated for people to come and raise their complaints that their details were changed without their knowledge and then we look into the issue.

In most cases, not everything is on the portal, because for every change that happens on the voters' roll, there is a supporting document.

Whenever we change anyone's details or anything, there is a supporting document; we have forms which we attach to the profile. This applies for the 5,6 million entries we have in our voters' roll.

However, as a commission, we are going to be running an exercise where we standardise details on the voters' roll. For instance, some people would give their addresses with the street name first, then the area, while others gave the area first and then the street name later. So we want to have a standard capturing of details, especially on registrations made in 2017 in the run-up to the 2018 elections.

Also, there were misposts which happened in 2018; they are even part on 2018 elections report. The commission is working on those. We are also going to be advertising to say these are the changes, these people had complaints in 2018 who had misposted. The commission will rectify that as we get towards 2023 elections. Everything will be up and in order.

LD: There has been concern that the voter turnout was relatively low. Do you have figures on how many people came out to vote and are these the numbers that you expected?

JM: What we have noted is that at National Assembly level, 35 percent turned out to vote.

As a commission, we are trying to persuade the voters to come in numbers, though in Zimbabwe voting is not mandatory, even registering to vote is not mandatory, but as a commission, we are trying to use a persuasive role in making sure that people understand their role when it comes to voting.

LD: There is concern from environmentalists that during the campaign trail there is a lot of littering, especially through posters and fliers. Whose responsibility is it to engage parties to clean up after the election process?

JM: We want to come up with a structure as a commission to make sure that we comply with issues of the environment.

Some of this waste is really adding to climate change, so we are going to raise these issues with stakeholders to make sure that they clean up the environment.

As we approach 2023, we are hoping to agree with the parties on the type of material that can be used to print the campaign material, so we might rope in environment specialists like the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).

LD: How many people did you register in the first phase of the voter registration blitz, and when is the second phase coming?

JM: We are starting the second BVR blitz on April 11 up until April 28. We are hoping that we will get more numbers because we have seen that the Registrar-General has started the ID (identity documents) blitz, so if there are prospective voters with issues to do with identity documents, this is going to be solved.

LD: In the second phase of the BVR blitz, do you have a target?

JM: In our previous blitz, we had a very huge target and we ended up registering around 80 000 new voters, so its unpredictable now, but it could be good for us if we get into this blitz targeting around 500 000 people. We want to ensure that the biometric system is extended to all 210 constituencies we have in Zimbabwe and to reach all the rural areas.

LD: Finally, you have this delimitation exercise and the voter's registration happening around the same time. What will happen in the event that some of the constituencies are downsized and people would have already registered with the details of their old constituency.

JM: We are aware of that, but remember that this delimitation exercise is not for the by-elections, it is to make sure that the constituency meets the minimum threshold and the maximum threshold.

The by-elections should all be done before nine months of the harmonised elections, and by November this year, all the by-elections should all be closed.

We need to make sure that there is no one who will be registered in two constituencies. As we have all the records, we can make sure that anyone who would be affected by the delimitation exercise can be transferred to the new constituency. We have agents everywhere who can do that job and make sure that everyone is in the voters' roll.

Source - The Sunday Mail
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