The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) could be forced to dump biometric voter registration (BVR) and revert to the old system, due to alleged security fears and meddling in the procurement of the voter kits for the 2018 polls, NewsDay has learnt.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA/EVERSON MUSHAVA
This came as Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties threatened to boycott or disrupt the election should Zec revert to the old disputed voting system.
Zec chairperson Justice Rita Makarau (pictured) yesterday said the electoral body “will keep listening” to the concerns raised by stakeholders and if they make a case against the adoption of BVR, it would be abandoned.
“We are listening to the concerns and if we can address them, then we will. If they make a case, we might abandon the process. But at the moment we are not looking to abandon because the issues raised so far have been addressed,” she said.
The procurement process for the BVR kits has already been put in motion, with government pledging to fund the process for $17 million after Zanu PF recently embarked on a systematic campaign to discredit the BVR system.
But opposition parties yesterday said they were mulling protests and demonstrations to disrupt the 2018 general elections if Zanu PF and Zec abandoned or muddied the BVR procurement process.
MDC-T youth leader Happymore Chidziva warned his party would not participate in a pre-determined election, and instead of boycotting the elections, the party would disrupt the process through peaceful demonstrations.
“We are not going to allow next year’s election to be rigged. As youths, we are going to demonstrate the whole of next year including on the day of the elections,” Chidziva said.
“We want to warn Zanu PF that if they think that they will manipulate the 2018 election, they are daydreaming, people of Zimbabwe are not fools, we are not going to allow Zec to destroy our future.”
Zec last month announced that it had dumped the United Nations Development Programme in the procurement of the registration kits in favour of the government.
But MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu also said his party would pursue the use of BVR in the 2018 polls or use of only the national ID in the event that it was abandoned.
“We are actually strenuously pushing for the adoption of a transparent BVR process, failing which we will demand that the whole process should be abandoned and replaced by a process whereby each eligible voter will simply have to produce his/her national identity document to enable him/ her to vote in 2018,” Gutu said.
National People’s Party spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said the opposition would do everything within the law, including demonstrations and appealing to regional and international bodies, to ratchet up pressure on the government to adopt BVR.
“In the 2013 general elections, there were over 17 000 voters aged 117 years and all born on the same day, January 1. We have agreed to use the biometric voter register and government should respect it,” Mawarire said.
The National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), a grouping of 13 opposition political parties pushing for electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 polls, also warned against dumping or manipulating the BVR system.
Nera head of legal affairs Douglas Mwonzora, who is also MDC-T secretary-general, said opposition political parties would not bow down to Zanu PF machinations to rule out biometric voting as earlier agreed upon.
“As Nera, we will not allow that to happen. There will be biometric voting in the 2018 general elections,” Mwonzora said.
People’s Democratic Party secretary for elections Settlement Chikwinya said although the biometric voter register had its own flaws, voting using the 2013 method of voter slips was “a worse devil”.
The Zimbabwe Election Support (Zesn) said all the security fears were being caused by misconceptions on the interpretation of the difference between BVR and electronic voting.
Zesn said a biometric voter register would capture physical and biological behavioural characteristics for physical identification of voters at polling station level, hence the fear of technology failure was unfounded given that the technology would only be used for registering voters.
“On election day, voters will still be required to present their identification documents and be issued with a paper ballot paper and not vote electronically. Hence, it is important to note that there will be no technology failure on election day as Zec will issue printed copies of the voters’ roll at polling stations,” Zesn said in a statement.
The Election Resource Centre said BVR was critical for a free and fair election.