Electoral Amendment Bill debate postponed to May

The Electoral Amendment Bill will now be debated on 8 May when Parliament resumes sitting after all the political parties represented in Parliament agreed that they could only do justice to the Bill after completing their respective party primary elections.

Members of Parliament failed to debate the Bill last week because of various reasons. On Tuesday last week, MDC-T Members asked Minister of Justice Hon Ziyambi Ziyambi to give them more time to look at the Bill.

On Wednesday, Members of Parliament came geared up for debate as agreed to by the Minister but to Member’s surprise, Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi moved a motion to adjourn Parliament before the Bill was debated.

This did not go well with MDC-T chief whip, Hon Innocent Gonese (MDC-T Mutare Central) who demanded that the Bill be debated as opposition members were prepared for the debate.

Hon. Gonese indicated that the House had to be recalled to sit last week in order to debate and pass Bills, specifically the Electoral Amendment Bill but said Minister Ziyambi dodged the debate, with the majority of ZANU PF missing in the House amid reports they were campaigning for primary elections.

In his defence, Minister Ziyambi said the Bill could not be debated since Legislators who had proposed amendments to the proposed law were away on official business.

He cited Hon Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC Mat South), who proposed several amendments, but was away on Parliament business.

However, when acting Speaker of the House Hon. Marumahoko called for dividing of the House to vote on whether it should be adjourned, Hon. Fani Munengami (MDC-T Glenview North) said there was no need for the vote and debate on the Bill must resume.

But, Hon Marumahoko used his powers and adjourned the House, which resulted in MDC-T MPs singing in Parliament.

Some of the highlights of the Electoral Amendment Bill are outlined below. The amendments were proposed and moved by the Hon Minister of Justice, as well as the Hon Gonese, a Member of the Justice Committee. Some of the proposals are critical to the conduct of an open and transparent poll, and resonate with ongoing calls by various stakeholders for the conduct of a credible poll in Zimbabwe.

Clause 1:

1)         Amendment of section 5: The proposal to empower the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to give written instructions to its staff that are open to stakeholder scrutiny is in aid of transparency in the operations of ZEC. The amendment also subjects the scope of those instructions to the law.

2)         Amendment of section 17: the proposal to empower the ZEC to prepare voters rolls for each polling station.

3)         Amendments proposed in section 18 seek to ensure that ZEC is fully responsible for the registration of voters, thereby enhancing its independence, as the role of the former Registrar-General of Voters is removed.

Clause 2:

1)         It is proposed in section 24 to record the fact at the point of registration, that a voter shall require assistance with voting. This should present a challenge to those who reportedly deprive others of the right to vote by compelling them to plead illiteracy while intending to vote on their behalf. It is also intended to provide for proof of identity, qualification as a voter and residence by other means beyond those prescribed by the Act. Further, it is also proposed to make provision for an appeal and review process in furtherance of administrative justice in the event that a party is aggrieved by decisions of the Commission.

Clause 3:

1)         Amendment to Section 26: It is proposed to deny the holder of a voter registration certificate the right to voter where his or her name does not appear on the roll. This amendment is inspired by allegations of abuse of registration certificates.

2)         Proposed amendments to section 32 will empower ZEC to remove duplicate registrations. This will assist with the integrity of the voters roll.

Clause 4:

1)         Proposed amendments to section 37 will enjoin ZEC to ensure that pursuant to an election, it shall keep all returns for a period of at least two months. This enables contestants to raise any issues with the polls.

2)         It is proposed to open stakeholders that may provide voter education under section 40C of the Act. The current provisions have been criticised as being unnecessarily restrictive, especially given the resource constraints faced by ZEC. The amendment also seeks to enhance government support to ZEC on voter education. The proposal by Hon Gonese is also to repeal the prohibition on foreign funding of voter education.

3)         Another proposal is to review the composition of the Observers Accreditation Committee, responsible for the invitation of observers, by ensuring that it is owned by ZEC, rather than Executive-dominated, as is the current scenario. There is also an attempt to ensure that ZEC opens all phases of the electoral cycle to observation under section 40I.

4)         It is also proposed to restrict the number of ballot papers printed for each election to not more than 10% of voters registered for that election. This is meant to reduce incidence or allegations of ballot stuffing.

Clause 5:

1)         The clause seeks to ensure the enjoyment of the right to vote by those registered to vote. Section 59 of the Act will be amended to ensure that feigned illiteracy is curtailed as a basis for assisted voting: the illiteracy must be recorded on the voters roll. This will deal will allegations of abuse of supporters of some of the political parties.

2)         It is also proposed to enhance the transparency of postal votes by subjecting them to open processes that will be observed even by political party agents under section 61 of the Act.

3)         It is proposed to expand the category of persons who may enjoy postal voting, by among other things, re-defining “essential service” as well as opening up the process to other persons in section 72. This will encompass prisoners and hospital patients, amongst other groups.

4)         It is proposed to remove the Human Rights Commission from being part of the functionaries under the purview of ZEC (section 133H), as this compromises its independence once it becomes party to the special investigation committee envisaged under the electoral law. This proposal also resonates with the position of the Human Rights Commission itself as expressed at public fora.

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