AT the time of this publication, Zimbabwe will be six days away from what looks like a destiny-defining election.
The four or so years of the Global Political Agreement were supposed to culminate in an unquestionable readiness for this election. It is regrettable that this has not happened.
We are therefore faced with the reality of an election that lacks credibility and likely to lead to another disputed outcome.
However, given that whole depressing background, we cannot resign ourselves to such a “fatal” end without proffering remedies to at least salvage the process.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that the voters’ roll will increasingly become the central determinant of how this election goes.
All other reforms including those called for by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at the Maputo meeting in June have all fallen away.
Lately, there has been a deafening silence by SADC itself and by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations in insisting on those reforms.
I guess for SADC it has progressively become convenient to be silent about those reforms.
The Zimbabwean political landscape has moved so fast in the last two months, albeit in the wrong direction; that SADC’s recommendations have been overrun.
Although the regional bloc’s credibility would remain questionable, given the failure to pursue its own recommendations, there is a general sense that SADC is now more interested in stability than full democratic reforms in Zimbabwe.
The MDC parties, especially the MDC-T, has been hugely encouraged by the massive turnouts at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s rallies. This has tended to force them to ignore the broader landscape of reforms urged by what they assume to be popular support, which they hope would bring them victory despite the absence of the reforms.
With all these reforms out of the way; the state and quality of the voters’ roll now remains the most critical instrument through which this election can be won or lost.
In his article entitled Constitutionalism, the Electoral System and Challenges for Governance and Stability in Zimbabwe, Lloyd Sachikonye indicates that transparency of the electoral process in Zimbabwe has always been fatally flawed by the refusal of the Registrar-General’s Office to make public, at any stage, a consolidated voters’ roll.
Sachikonye and many others concede that the voters’ roll has always been the swivel around which electoral irregularities have spun.
It looks like this is likely to be the case in the election we face in six days time.
Part 17.A.(21) of the Electoral Act states that the voters’ roll shall be made available, free of charge, to every nominated candidate within a reasonable period of the time after nomination day.
Nomination courts sat in June and concluded their business. Voter registration also ended on July 10.
The electoral law implies that the final voters’ roll must now be supplied to the candidates before the elections. The only catch here is the Electoral Act’s reference to “within reasonable period”.
The Act does not create a specific timeframe within which the voters’ roll must be availed to candidates before the election but leaves that to the judgment of those running the system.
We, however, need to look at this from a specific context.
Zimbabwe’s civil society and research institutions have developed mechanisms and programmes through which they can analyse the voters’ roll within hours.
Such analysis can give a broad “brush stroke” of the credibility of the voters’ roll in comparison to national statistics from the 2012 population census exercise. This is why a few weeks ago, the Registrar General — Tobaiwa Mudede (pictured) — obtained a court interdict to block the launch of a report by the Research and Advocacy Unit on analysis of the June 2013 voters’ roll.
Mudede’s office must have realised just how embarrassing it would have been for that report to be launched and therefore expose the glaring lack of credibility in the voters’ roll.
With that kind of fear in mind, how then is Mudede’s office going to be confident enough to release the final voters’ roll before the elections on July 31?
They know that within hours of the voters’ roll being in the public domain, it will be subjected to rigorous analysis and results made public.
Should Mudede and his team not have done a good job of the voters’ roll, then this will likely bring them a lot of embarrassment.
It will also lead to questions on the credibility of the eventual election as well as arm some political groups to allege intentional political tampering of the electoral processes.
This has the potential to collapse the whole electoral process.
Is Mudede therefore not likely use the Electoral Act provision, which specifies that the voters’ roll must be publicised within “reasonable period” to his advantage?
The law does not push him to produce the voters’ roll in a specific time but only prescribes a period.
Mudede can still proffer a legally plausible argument by availing the voters roll even a day before the election. That still sound legal as long as he can justify this as a “reasonable period”.
Even if analysis of the voters’ roll is then done during or after the election; it does not become as material as being carried out prior to the election.
The key to the election is the voters’ roll to be used in that election.
At the moment no one knows its status, except for those in Mudede’s office.
Mudede will obviously blame any delays on the “fast track” election preparations that saw the country go through two phases of mobile voter registration and the compilation of the final voters’ roll in a short time.
Many will go to elections without sight or knowledge of the contents of the voters’ roll. Political parties will not have ample time to check if the multitudes who have been attending their rallies are all able to vote.
Research institutions and civil society will only be able to tell us the quality of the voters’ roll after the polls have closed. The key to this election is squarely now in Mudede’s hands.
He has the decision to release the voters’ roll on time or delay.
Just how much pressure can be applied to force him to comply with an immediate publication is uncertain. What is certain is that the key to this election is firmly in his hands.
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