THE Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (Zesn) have given thumbs up to the newly-passed Electoral Amendment Act, which prescribes a $700 fine or five-year jail term for people found guilty of committing electoral malpractices such as vote-buying and intimidation.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
The amendment was passed into law on May 28 as part of measures to curb electoral malpractices and punish offenders, especially during the campaign period.
In a joint analysis of the amendment, ZLHR and Zesn said: “Section 133A on electoral malpractices now expands the scope of punishable intimidation by threatening statements by alleged intimidators that they can discover how a voter cast his or her ballot.
“If convicted of this offence, a perpetrator is liable to a fine level 10 ($700) or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”
The organisations described the amendment as a progressive addition to the electoral law given the widespread reports of intimidation of potential voters in the previous elections and the biometric voter registration exercise, where political actors were recording serial numbers of voter registration certificates on the pretext that they would be able to determine how a voter cast their vote.
“The criminalisation of this practice should act as a deterrent for future offenders,” they said.
The two rights groups said the Electoral Amendment Act had shortcomings with regards to delimitation of constituency boundaries.
Section 239(f) of the Constitution makes the delimitation of constituencies the role of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, but the Electoral Act failed to elaborate on the delimitation process itself.
“Zesn and the ZLHR recommend that constituency boundary delimitation provisions must become elaborate to ensure that seat allocations enable voters to be represented in the legislature in roughly equal population ratios,” they said.
Another weakness they cited on the Electoral Amendment Act was the manner in which it criminalises conducting of voter education as part of a course in law or civics.
“This provision must be repealed, as it is not justifiable in a democratic society that is upholding the right to freedom of association, expression, and other freedoms. It must be repealed, and instead a new section that clearly defines what voter education is must be included,” they said.
The new Electoral Amendment Act also does not have a specific section which ensures that voter education is accessible to everyone in user-friendly form and content, and that it must be continuous throughout the electoral cycle.