The Electoral Amendment Bill was yesterday passed by the Senate with no amendments. The Bill now awaits Presidential assent to become law.
This Bill seeks to amend certain sections of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] (No. 25 of 2004) to complete the alignment of certain provisions of that Act with the new Constitution and to ensure the smooth running of the new registration of voters proclaimed by the President by Statutory Instrument 109 of 2017 (Proclamation 6 of 2017) on the 8th September, 2017.
The Bill was passed in the National Assembly last week although Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi negated most of the proposed amendments to the Electoral Amendment Bill by MDC-T chief whip, Innocent Gonese in the National Assembly.
Hon Gonese’s proposed amendments were mostly to do with ensuring that electoral fraud is nipped in the bud so that the forthcoming 2018 elections are deemed free and fair.
Below are some of the highlights of the amendments proposed by Honourables Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Gonese in respect of the Bill.
Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga Proposed Amendments:
- A proposal in Clause 2 to have a preamble based on section 17 of the Constitution, which speaks to gender parity issues, rejected by the Hon Minister of Justice. The Minister however stated that members must be guided by gender principle as each amendment was being dealt with.
- A proposal in Clause 4 that would carry some definitions, such as “gender” and “gender equality” by Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga, was however accepted,
Hon Gonese Proposed Amendments:
- A proposal in Clause 1 to amend section 4 of the Act by inserting a definition of “appropriate registration office” was rejected by the Minister on the basis that it would constrain voters by directing them to particular registration centres, when the law allowed them to register anywhere in Zimbabwe. The definition of “disciplined force” suggested by Hon Gonese was taken on board – meaning for purposes of electoral law, the army is excluded.
- The suggested definition of electoral court” as a division of the High Court was also taken on board. This has positive implications on the Court as part of the framework for electoral dispute resolution mechanisms. The perception of the Court as susceptible to Executive manipulation may be addressed by the amendment.
- Hon Gonese sought to propose an amendment to section 5 of the Act, in terms of which the Commission could issues instructions to officers of the Commission. The Minister rejected it on the basis that it would create confusion in the Commission. The Minister also stated that it was not good corporate governance for the Commission to do the work of the Chief Elections Officer (CEO)
- Hon Gonese’s attempt to deal with the issue of assisted/illiterate voters did not get buy-in from the Minister, who contended that disability and illiteracy could happen at any time, even between registration and voting, and it was unnecessary to include them in the Bill,
- The Minister rejected a proposal that would permit the taking of photographs of the voters roll. He argued that it would expose the roll to manipulation. However the Minister allowed a clause that would allow a person inspecting the roll the right to take notes.
- The Minister rejected a proposal by Hon Gonese that a registrant could be registered as a voter in an area in which they were born, even if they did not reside there. The Minister stated that this did not make a lot of sense, and made nonsense of the representative nature of our democracy.
- Hon Gonese sought to have provisions in the Act relating to voter education (VE) amended, to make it easier for stakeholders wanting to partake in the process. The apparent monopoly powers of the Commission on VE were retrogressive, in Hon Gonese’s submission. The Minister rejected the proposals. He however made a concession that foreign or local donations towards VE were acceptable on the condition that they are sent to the Commission for distribution.
- Hon Gonese proposed that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission be empowered to monitor, rather than observe the electoral process. Monitoring entitles the ZHRC to seek redress and correction of human rights issues. Observation, on the other hand, does not. The Minister made a partial concession, that the ZHRC would have automatic observer status for elections. It could monitor human rights issues without accreditation with ZEC. The Minister was however adamant that the ZHRC could only do its monitoring role on its own, without appointing any agents, as there were no provisions for that!
- Hon Gonese also proposed for an open and competitive selection of a ballot paper printer. The Minister rejected this, arguing that current procurement law and other voting day safeguards were adequate,
- Hon Gonese sought the inclusion of a clause to outlaw the use of voting slips/registration certificates where one was not on the roll. There was agreement with the Minister that this had been taken care of by an amendment by the Minister which would disallow entitlement to vote where one was not on the roll
- A proposal by Hon Gonese to allow persons to complain to the ZEC or appeal to a designated magistrate on voter registration issues, when aggrieved by a decision of ZEC or an officer thereof, was accepted by the Minister
- A proposal by Hon Gonese to align section 37 (b) of the Act on delimitation with provisions of section 161 of the Constitution, was accepted by the Minister
- There was a concession by the Minister on the number of ballot papers to be printed for every election, that they should not go beyond the 10% threshold of registered voters. This has previously been one of the contentious matters as it is related to issues of ballot stuffing. The request to subject the printing to the presence of political parties was however rejected.
- The proposal to redefine essential services for purposes of inclusivity with respect to postal voting was rejected by the Minister on the ground that it would add to confusion and unnecessary litigation.
- The proposal to empower the Electoral Court to disallow those found to have engaged in electoral malpractice from future elections was also rejected by the Minister on the basis that these courts were not criminal courts