Monday, 23 October 2017

2018 ELECTIONS : THE DISENFRACHISED

As Zimbabwe fast approaches the 2018 elections there are fears among pro democracy groups, civil and political activists, and opposition political parties that the ruling Zanu PF government will not put in place mechanisms to allow special groups like prisoners and those living in the Diaspora to vote based on technical operational arguments rather than the legality point of view.

Apart from the Diaporans and the prisoners, thousands of Zimbabweans who are blind will 
have to be assisted to vote in 2018 because Zimbabwe’s voting system does not provide for Braille ballot papers.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that all citizens of Zimbabwe have got the right to vote; essentially meaning that even those Zimbabweans who live in the Diaspora and prisoners have the right to vote.

Ironically, ideals of democracy like “one man, one vote,” were at the core of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and motivated young men and women who abandoned everything to cross the borders to fight for a better Zimbabwe for all.

Therefore the right for Zimbabwean citizens to vote is a basic principle of electoral democracy which must not be subject to unreasonable restrictions.
Denying prisoners and those in Diaspora the right to vote when the Constitution allows them is illegal, unjust and an act of rigging. 
Diaspora Vote
There are an estimated three million people living in the Diaspora who will not be able to vote, most of these who were displaced by political violence while others are seeking economic opportunities abroad after the failure of the national economy.

Since all these Zimbabweans were forced out of the country by Zanu PF’s policies, chances are that in the event of any election they will vote for opposition political parties.
The ruling government, cognizant of this fact, has made it difficult for the Diaspora vote citing various flimsy logistical problems.

While there is no law in Zimbabwe that prohibits those living outside the country from voting, the ruling government has been giving excuses and only allowing those working at their embassies that right.

They vote through what they call the postal vote which they cast at local embassies/consulates and ballots are then posted to Zimbabwe.

Three million voters would be a big game changer in Zimbabwe’s politics and the ruling Zanu PF knows that because the party announced that in preparation for the 2018 elections, it is ambitiously targeting at least five million potential voters for registration.
In the 2013 elections a total of 3,4 million Zimbabweans cast their vote with the ruling party garnering just over two million while the opposition got more than one million. The Diaspora voters did not take part.

So the Diaspora vote can easily twist any elections in Zimbabwe in favour of the opposition and the ruling Zanu PF has over the years barred this block from casting their votes.
It is also a double-faced act that while the Zimbabwean government is disenfranchising those in the Diaspora of their right to vote, the Zimbabwean economy is propelled by financing from their remittances. In 2016 those living in the Diaspora remitted $1 billion.

Prisoners Vote
Another group that will not vote and that has not been allowed to vote since independence are the prisoners.
According to the Justice ministry, currently they are more than 19 000 prisoners in Zimbabwe and these are not allowed to vote although again, like the Diaspora voters, there is no law in the country that bars them from casting their vote.

Zimbabwe Election Commission, a government body that runs elections in the country has given flimsy reasons as to why they cannot allow prisoners to vote. But democracy provides that all people in Zimbabwe must freely exercise and enjoy their constitutional rights to freedom of association.

The prison conditions in Zimbabwe are so bad, rough and food is scarce that the ruling Zanu PF knows fully well that this voting bloc will vote for the opposition political parties.
Zimbabwean prisoners are citizens too, going through rehabilitation and have a right to vote.

They are not disenfranchised by the Constitution because Section 86 of the Constitution provides that “fundamental rights and liberties may only be limited in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society.”

Essentially, therefore, it is unreasonable and unjustifiable to deny prisoners the right to vote. In the recent elections that were held in Kenya, prisoners were allowed to vote while in South Africa, in recent years prisoners have been voting after winning that right through a Constitutional Court ruling.

The Blind
A total of 125 000 people in Zimbabwe are registered as blind and twice that number are visually impaired.

Government has over the years deliberately made life difficult for the blind because of the absence of Braille on election related material. In fact, right from political campaigns to the day of voting there is absolutely no literature in Braille.

Political parties in Zimbabwe have also ignored the blind’s concerns; hence this block has to rely on others to read for them any election information.

Because of the absence of Braille ballot papers, the electoral law says blind voters are assisted to vote by officers presiding over polling stations, in the presence of a police officer and agents of contesting political parties.

But opposition parties and election monitoring bodies have in the past accused the ruling Zanu PF of using assisted voters to steal votes.

While Zimbabwe is considered among the most literate countries in Africa with a literacy rate of more than 90 percent, in 2013 elections the African Union observers noted a worryingly "high number of assisted voters in many polling stations nationwide".
While it is not only the blind who can be assisted as assisted voting is intended to also help the illiterate or the infirm cast their ballots, suspiciously, at least
200 000 most of them claiming to be illiterate were assisted to vote in the 2013 poll.
Election experts have called on Parliament and Zimbabwe Election Commission to push for a change of laws governing casting of assisted votes, following a large number of assisted votes in the 2013 general elections.

They want authorities to amend constitutional provisions relating to assisted voting ahead of the 2018 elections, as the current ones are prone to abuse.

Conclusion
Since Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013, the government has refused to align the Electoral Act with the Constitution.

This year concerned stakeholders and fellow civil society petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe over administrative lethargy in Government and the piecemeal approach to the review of the Electoral Law.

But even with the petitioners beseeching the Parliament demanding that Zimbabwe’s Electoral Law be reviewed in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution and that a legal framework is put in place that guarantees an undisputed electoral process, nothing has been action.

The challenge in Zimbabwe is that there is absolutely no political will from the authorities to remove unreasonable limitations to voting rights and yet the essence of the liberation struggle was to break down these barriers on the basis of the mantra of 'one man one vote' to enable everyone to participate in the public affairs of their country.

The rules for Zimbabwean elections are so skewed against free and fair participation; those running the elections are controlled by those running for election. The environment in which elections are conducted is often characterized by suppression of free will.

Always as Zimbabweans approach elections they are reminded of that which inspired the waging of a war of liberation in the 70s; that which compelled young people then, to take up arms and determine their destiny.

There is no doubt that part of struggle of independence was for self-determination through an equal suffrage.
The belief then was that the struggle, if won, would guarantee one man one vote, something which is not happening today.

While the right to vote is recognised in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Law has not ensured that the right is enjoyed by Zimbabweans in prisons, at home and abroad. daily news

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