The Electoral Amendment Bill is currently before Parliament and last Tuesday I contributed to the Debate and I wait with bated breath to see how the Honourable Minister will respond to the issues that I and my colleagues will raise
” HON. GONESE: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker Sir, in respect of this Bill I would like to begin by saying that this is a very, very fundamental issue because when it comes to the issue of free and fair elections that really governs the governance architecture of our country. I want to say that it is very essential that we take this matter very seriously. My concern is that in the past we have talked about it and we have said that we really need a comprehensive amendment to the Electoral Law so that it conforms to the provisions of our Constitution.
If you look at our Constitution, it is a very, very good document and when we look at the section on elections, it gives us a very good framework. However, what is lacking is that this is not buttressed and supported by the legislation which is in place. Since 2013, Mr. Speaker, we have had piecemeal amendments to the Electoral Law instead of having a holistic approach where we actually cover everything which is required to be covered in terms of alignment, and also in terms of good practice.
I do sympathise with the current Minister. He was not in charge at the time when these piece meal amendments were being brought to this august House and I want to believe that at this point in time, we have got a new man in charge. We want to see a different approach from him.
In the course of my debate, I am going to highlight a lot of areas which have been left out and I hope that the Hon. Minister is going to take these into consideration. In this country, Mr. Speaker, we have had a history of disputed elections and one of the reasons is because of the defective legislative framework and this is something which we must now attend to cure so that, going forward, we are now dealing with a situation where the constitutional provisions, the legislative framework, the environment and everything else to do with free and fair elections is adequately covered.
I am very disappointed, Mr. Speaker that we have got so many areas which are not adequately covered. We have got a Bill which, with due respect, I would say is very shallow in its context. We have got very few provisions which deal mainly with the introduction of the Biometric Voter Registration and little else in circumstances where this Executive is aware of sentiments which had been raised by Hon. Members in the past of areas which need to be covered, but which still remain uncovered.
I am aware, Mr. Speaker, that our new President has been talking and talking about having free, fair, peaceful and credible elections. However, Mr. Speaker, this must not be a slogan. We should not just continue repeating it when in fact, we are not doing anything on the ground to actually demonstrate that we are committed to having a change of the mind set so that, going forward, our elections are those elections where people have got confidence in them and at the same time they are an accurate reflection of the will of the people of this country. You are an actual reflection of what the people would actually have voted for and not of something else. As a starting point, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that we must have a change of attitude. We must now begin to appreciate that when we go for elections, we must expect two possible outcomes.
I know that in this region, on this continent, we have had wrong attitudes where governing parties, when they call themselves ruling parties, they expect to rule for ever. We have actually had such sentiments being expressed not just in Zimbabwe, but from outside as well. For instance in South Africa, there were sentiments expressed by the former President there, Jacob Zuma, that the ANC would rule until the second coming of Jesus. I know in Kenya the former Vice President Mwai Kibaki, when he was Vice President of KANU, said that it was easier to cut a baobab tree with a razor blade than to remove KANU from power.
Coming closer home, Mr. Speaker, we heard statements in the past that for instance ZANU-PF would rule until donkeys grow horns and I remember former Minister Hon. Jonathan Moyo saying that no Government can reform itself out of power. That kind of attitude, those kind of sentiments are not helpful and I want to say, Mr. Speaker that at this point in time, we must now practice what we preach. When we say that we want to have free, fair, credible and peaceful elections, they must be so.
In this regard, Mr. Speaker, I will now look at what is missing from the current Bill which I want to believe that if the Hon. Minister is going to have a change of attitude from what used to obtain in the past, he will listen attentively to those proposals and have them incorporated, but before I do that, I want to look at what is currently in the current Bill. There are several challenges and I just want to highlight those which I think are critical
Section 67 of our Constitution is very clear. It gives all Zimbabwean citizens the right to vote and that right should not be tampered with. However, when we look at our electoral law, when we look at its provisions particularly in relation to the provisions which led to the registration of voters, you will find that they are very cumbersome. We had experiences, Mr. Speaker, where when people were trying to vote – the resident’s qualifications, an onus is being placed on the voter to prove where they stay when it is common cause that in this country, most people do not have title deeds and so on. Affidavits are not a sufficient cure. I have a problem in the sense that it proved very difficult for most of the people who do not have their own accommodation to actually obtain those affidavits. I do not see the need of having those cumbersome qualifications.
Why do we not simplify it and simply say that the potential voter should just be able to make a declaration of where they stay without having to appear before a Commissioner of Oath because once they make that declaration, it should suffice. Their ipse dixit should suffice. They just indicate that I stay or I reside at this particular place and they appear before an electoral officer and say so and that declarations which does not have to be signed by a commissioner of oaths, would then be deemed to be sufficient. I do not see any difference because the Commissioner of Oaths is not in a position to prove that the deponent who is appearing before him or her actually resided at the place indicated. So, to me, it serves no useful purpose.
Then the other aspect, Mr. Speaker, which I think should be better dealt with relates to the issue of intimidations. We have had a lot of complaints about people being asked to produce their voter registration slips. That tactic is not only illegal and in violation of the law, but it is also very intimidatory because you are dealing with simple folk who may not appreciate the exigencies of the matter, who then get intimidated. We must tighten this so that specific offences should be created and crafted in such a manner that anyone who does that is going to face the music so that it is not really left to people to report to the police but ZEC should then be empowered to deal with those errant members of society who are intimidating voters by asking them to produce those voter registration slips.
I will now look at aspects, Mr. Speaker, which I think should be better covered in the proposed amendment to the extent that then it makes it easier for all Zimbabweans to exercise their right to vote which is clearly enshrined in Section 67 of the Constitution. I will avert to the provision which is in the Constitution which is very clear and unambiguous and which clearly states that every adult Zimbabwean citizen, wherever they are, have got the right to vote. It means that it does not matter whether they are resident in Zimbabwe, whether they are resident in the United Kingdom, in New Zealand, in Australia or wherever, you must have that right which is covered.
What the fourth schedule to the Constitution merely does is to say that the electoral law can prescribe presidential requirements, but those requirements are just meant to ensure that voters are placed on the appropriate voters roll and not to hinder the voters from being able to vote. I believe that the current Electoral Act, even if it is amended by the current Bill will continue preventing people from being able to cast their vote even if they are so registered. I want to say that it is not necessary for citizens being required to prove where they stay. It should just suffice that they are Zimbabwean citizens; they have got their passport or their ID. They should simply declare that I stay in such and such a place and that on its own should suffice.
Mr. Speaker, I have already alluded to the issue of those who are not resident in Zimbabwe. I want to say we must administratively make it possible for those people to get registered without having them flying to Zimbabwe to register at a particular station. We must make adequate arrangements. We must progressively begin to put in place the necessary mechanisms which will enable those who are outside Zimbabwe to be able to vote.
Other than this category of people, we also have people who are or who will be in hospital – at the present moment, they should present themselves at a polling station. Why should that be? Why should not the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) make appropriate arrangements to go to hospitals so that those who may be indisposed at a particular point in time get registered? When it comes to the actual polling, we should put in place appropriate mechanisms for those who are in hospitals to be able to vote.
Apart from those in hospital, we also have people who are in prisons. The Hon. Minister, being a lawyer, knows that in our prisons, we have got a very large number of people who have not been tried or convicted. It is very clear that there is a presumption of innocence. Those people who are in remand prison are not even guilty of any offence but at the present moment, there is no mechanism put in place to enable them to exercise their right which is clearly spelt out in the Constitution. I would like to say that the electoral law must make provisions for those who are in remand prison to be able to vote. I will extend it further to say that even those who are convicted prisoners should be able to vote. There is no distinction in Section 67. One may have committed an offence – yes one may have been convicted by a court of law but you still enjoy your rights. The exceptions which are set out in the Bill of Rights do not extend to the right to vote. If the framers of the Constitution wanted this to be included, they would have explicitly said so. The fact that it does not reflect means that they still must enjoy their right to vote. I would like to say that should be covered.
Again, we have got persons with disabilities. We do not have mechanisms which are put in place. I want to say that our electoral law should make it easier. For example, we have got people who are blind. Why do we not have ballot papers which are in Braille so that those people can cast their vote on their own without the assistance of others? The current provisions require them to be assisted by an electoral officer then a police officer must be present. That compromises their right to vote in secret if a police officer witnesses where they are casting their vote. We must put in place the appropriate mechanism so that even those in wheel chairs and so on can be able to vote on their own without requiring the assistance of anyone else who will then get to know how they will have cast their vote when in fact the cornerstone and essence of free and fair elections is that the vote to be cast by a voter must be secret.
We also have got provisions in our current law which infringes the independence of the ZEC. I believe that this must be rectified so that at the end of the day, what is spelt out in the Constitution gets full effect in terms of the actual law that we have. For instance, the current Section 9.5, ZEC is not allowed to dismiss its Chief Elections Officer without the approval of the Minister of Justice. Why should it be so? ZEC is an independent body. It should have the full powers. If it is not happy with the conduct of some members of its secretariat, it should have the unfettered discretion to do so without seeking the approval of the Minister.
Again the current Section 12.1, ZEC is not allowed to accept donations or grants from any non-government source without the Minister’s approval. I believe that the people who are commissioners are persons of integrity. They should be able to determine who can assist them in terms of the financial resources that they require without the approval of the Minister who is a member of the Executive.
Again in terms of Section 18.5, the Minister is empowered to make regulations for mandatory automatic and electronic voter registration. Why should this power be given to the Hon. Minister and not to ZEC. Again, the accreditation of observers is not left to the discretion of ZEC but instead, it is largely put in the hands of the observers’ accreditation Committee where the Executive has got excessive representation.
When it comes to the making of regulation, ZEC and certain procedures, they need to seek the approval of the Minister who is not only a member of the Executive but also an interested party because most of the Hon. Ministers are political animals. As such, they have got their own interest. I would like to say that we should not allow members of the Executive to have this overbearing power on an independent body. The independent body should be left entirely to exercise its discretion when it comes to those matters.
We also have the issue of voter education ….
THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER (HON. MARUMAHOKO): Order, Hon. Gonese – you are left with three minutes.
HON. GONESE: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I will try to wind up. In terms of voter education, ZEC is given a monopoly over this provision and they infringe on the freedom of expression as guaranteed in terms of Section 61 of the Constitution. When it comes to actual polling, you will find that the usual practice has been that we get concerned too much with the actual election period without covering the pre-election period. Let us look at access to the media – the current provisions in the electoral law actually relate to the polling period after proclamation, after nomination of candidates. It does not cover the pre-election period. For instance, in this pre-election period, we have had excessive coverage of the current sitting President. But when it comes to the activities of the other political parties, they are not adequately covered. For instance, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of which I am member, has held rallies throughout the country. What has been clear is that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), for reasons best known to itself, has not been covering MDC rallies and yet this is the pre-election period; parties are gearing themselves for the elections and yet we have more coverage of even the first lady buying tomatoes and mangoes by the roadside instead of having coverage of our President, Advocate Nelson Chamisa addressing rallies. He was in Chinhoyi this week and he was in Masvingo the other day. That has not been covered at all. That is the problem whereby you then get coverage being restricted to some political parties. I know that during elections, ZEC will have powers over the media of coverage. I believe that the act should actually apply even to the pre-election period.
This also relates to the issue of observers – at the time of voter registration, that is where all the shenanigans and gerrymandering take place. We must have mechanisms for observers if they are so inclined, to come at this point in time during the pre-election period so that they can observe for themselves what is actually happening and not have a scenario where observers are invited when nominations have been done when in fact the damage would have been done before the nomination of candidates during the pre-election period.
Therefore, it is essential that as a nation, we need to have credible elections. We do not want anyone to cry foul…
THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Order, Hon. Member. Your time is up.
HON. GONESE: In conclusion, I would like to say that the Electoral Act needs extensive amendments. I was also going to talk about other laws like POSA and AIPPA which need to be amended so that they can fully give effect to the issue of free and fair elections. I thank you Hon. Speaker.”