THE voters’ roll which is in a shambles and the persistent refusal by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to release the electronic version for audit have dented the credibility of the 23 August general elections at a time the eyes of the international community are on Zimbabwe after the disputed 2018 polls.
During the recent inspection of the voters’ roll, several Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) senior officials revealed that their names had been struck off the roll at their original polling stations and transferred to wards far from their usual polling stations without their consent.
In Bulawayo, former CCC treasurer-general David Coltart reported he, family members and a domestic worker could not find their names at the station where they have always voted. They only found out that they had been transferred to another ward after making considerable effort to get to the bottom of the matter.
The opposition party’s former deputy president and former Industry Mcinister Professor Welshman Ncube made similar reports together with the party’s lawmaker Nicole Watson. Some people could not find their name on the voters’ roll and eventually gave up in frustration, meaning they will not vote.
This disenfranchisement dents the credibility of the elections. While some eminent citizens came out openly protesting this development, many ordinary citizens did not have the energy or resources to check where they had been transferred to.
Some are likely not to vote, given that they do not know the polling stations or wards they were transferred to. This is already clear evidence that some voters will be disenfranchised which, in turn, renders the polls unfair.
The numerous errors and discrepancies in the voters’ roll deviate from constitutional standards. The opposition CCC in a letter of complaint to Zec last week, said it had noted serious anomalies on the voters’ roll from a reflective sample across all the 10 provinces.
The opposition party said one of the key errors it noted was the missing names of prospective voters, some of whom had previously cast their votes in the 2018 general elections and even in the March 2022 by-elections.
The party demanded an urgent meeting with Zec over the anomalies.
“Registered voters that had been appearing on the BVR online inspection platform are suddenly missing their names from the current online platforms and the voters’ roll under inspection. The voters’ roll under inspection seems not to be synchronised with the new delimitation boundaries. Resultantly, prospective voters have been displaced from their wards of residence.
“Some registered voters have been moved several kilometres away from their polling stations and even to different wards, a deviation from what Zec indicated to stakeholders that it will re-organise the delimitation boundaries using polling areas,” said the CCC.
Zec has also persistently refused to release the electronic voters’ roll for easier audit by stakeholders, including candidates in the 23 August elections. Zec’s actions are contrary to the country’s constitution as section 21(1) stipulates that “every voters’ roll and every consolidated roll shall be a public document and open to inspection by the public, free of charge, during office hours at the office of the commission or the registration office where it is kept.”
The discrepancies on the voters’ roll have already courted the concerns of foreign nations such as the United States, further undermining the credibility of the elections.
At the end of last month, Elaine French, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Harare, had to be summoned by the ministry of Foreign Affairs following a tweet posted on the embassy’s official handle encouraging people to go and inspect the voters’ roll after an outcry over the missing names of top CCC officials.
French met Rofina Chikava, the acting permanent secretary in the ministry of Foreign Affairs. After the meeting, Meg Riggs, spokesperson of the US embassy, said America will continue to urge peace, transparency and inclusivity in Zimbabwe over the coming weeks, months and years as it stands by “our values of peace, transparency and inclusivity in electoral processes.”
Riggs said all Zimbabweans deserve a chance to choose their future in free and fair elections. “We strongly support a transparent and peaceful process that reflects the will of the people of Zimbabwe,” she said.
Professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan, told The NewsHawks that the credibility of the next elections would be judged by how Zec conducts processes such as management of the voters’ roll.
“Every voters’ roll in Zimbabwean electoral history has contained glitches. What is deeply concerning, however, is the refusal to release the electronic roll. It is the electronic version which is most susceptible to alteration in the case of a very tight election,” he said.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede also pointed out that elections cannot be described as free and fair if the voters’ roll is at the centre of a dispute.
“Holding elections with a voters’ roll that is being kept a secret is contrary to international best practices and recommendations made by observers such as the African Union in 2018.
“Moreso, if it turns out that significant errors will be discovered on the day of polling; that would be a sure way of denting the elections’ credibility. This is why Zec must release an auditable and electronic voters’ roll to civil society and political parties to have a look at it as well as help with technical advice and inputs,” he said.
Political anaIyst Rashweat Mukundu told The NewsHawks that the actions of Zec on the voters’ roll essentially undermine the transparency and freeness of the August elections.
“Zec has either acted unprofessionally and intransigently in denying the opposition and civil society access to the voters’ roll. And worse off, citizens who are finding their names missing are not finding any immediate relief, but rather promises that this and that will be done.
“So, there is every reason to believe that the voters’ roll is now a key cog in the potential rigging of elections in connivance with Zec, Zanu PF and the security sector in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Mukundu however said citizens must go and vote and not be distracted from doing so by contentions over the voters’ roll.
“Zec needs to come out clean, otherwise what essentially we are facing is an election that is not free and fair. Regardless, citizens must push for Zec to correct anomalies. Citizens must still go out and vote and see what happens at the end of the day,” he said.