HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsParliament tackles chaotic voter registration exercise

Parliament tackles chaotic voter registration exercise


Debate on the chaotic mobile voter registration exercise took centre stage in the House of Assembly during the past two weeks.


This is highly encouraging in that voter registration is the current topical political issue. Parliament proved that it is still relevant by tackling such an issue.
Parliament has an oversight role to play on the work of government departments and commissions, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the Registrar General’s Office.

Mbizo MDC-T MP Settlement Chikwinya must be applauded for introducing the motion on voter registration in a timely manner. He proved that he is an effective MP able to lead debate on an issue that is of grave concern within and beyond our borders. The debate in Parliament was able to demonstrate without any shadow of doubt that the institutions mandated with managing the electoral process are not ready at all, despite their pronouncements to the contrary. It was also proved that it is not only the issue of financial resources affecting the voter registration process, but poor organisation, lack of clarity of the rules and procedures and a weak Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that cannot exercise its supervisory role. What all this clearly shows is that we have a long way to go before we create a conducive environment for a credible election.

The past three weeks witnessed the passage of the Constitutional Bill in both the House of Assembly and the Senate and signing of the Bill by the President on Wednesday. At the time of writing this article, it was expected that the Constitution would be published in the Government Gazette today and become law. This completes the long and difficult constitution-making process that started four years ago.

Now that the Constitution is in place, some believe that the President can now proclaim the date for harmonised elections and that we can still have elections by 29 June. It is not possible to have elections by that date from a legal and political point of view. We only have five weeks to the expiry of the term of office of Parliament and that of the President. Surely there is no way all the required legal and political processes can unfold within this very limited period in order for us to have a free and fair election whose outcome will not be contested. We should not forget that both political parties have not yet finalised the divisive primary elections to choose candidates to stand in the elections.

One of the most important processes pertains to voter registration. We now have to pin our hopes on Schedule Six of the new Constitution that requires the Registrar General of Voters, under the supervision of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, to conduct a special and intensive voter registration and a voter’s roll inspection exercise for at least thirty days after the publication of the new Constitution in the Government Gazette. But without the responsible authorities reading the riot act on the Registrar General of Voters, the recent chaotic scenes will most likely recur, leading to many people being disenfranchised.

Even after the adoption of Chikwinya’s motion, Parliament has to continue to oversee the voter registration process. The relevant portfolio committee of Parliament must follow suit and invite Commission representatives and the Registrar General to appear before the committee and account for these unacceptable actions.

The other issue that Parliament has to deal with relates to aligning laws governing elections with the new Constitution. The Electoral Law has to be amended before proclamation of the date for elections. This is in line with Section 157 (5) which says after an election has been called, no change to the electoral law or to any other law relating to elections has effect for the purposes of that election. The Electoral Amendment Bill should therefore come before Parliament and passed into law before the legislative body stands dissolved on March 29.

There are parliamentary procedures that will have to be met before the Bill becomes law. When gazetted, the Bill stands referred to the relevant portfolio committee that has up to fourteen days to analyse it and report to Parliament. The relevant portfolio committee in this case is that of Justice, Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs.

Upon introduction in the House of Assembly the Bill is referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee to give an opinion on whether or not some of the provisions violate the Constitution. The Parliamentary Legal Committee is given up to 26 business days to report to the House. These time frames can only be varied provided a motion is moved and approved to suspend these specific standing orders. So the latest we should expect the Electoral Amendment Bill to become law is towards end of June, meaning elections can only be held after 29th June. We should also remember that we need at least 14 days after the publication of proclamation for the Nomination Court to sit and then at least 42 days after the nomination of candidates for elections to take place. This gives a total of 56 days which are beyond 29th June.

Yes while it can be argued that running a Government without a Parliament can be interpreted as unconstitutional, the government can still function without a Parliament. The President is empowered by the Constitution to extend the life of the Executive by another four months, which in this case is by 29 October 2013. He can still use the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to make law on anything.

Having said this, the issue of the election date will most likely be resolved politically rather than legally. The current political grand standing on election dates will eventually make way for constructive consultation between the principals. The election date will have to be endorsed by SADC, the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement.

John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com

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