OPPOSITION political parties and independent electoral watchdogs have accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) of attempting to wriggle out of its constitutional obligations by shifting goalposts at the 11th hour as part of a wider plot to rig the July 30 elections.
BY STAFF REPORTERS
This came after Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba yesterday claimed that they deliberately withdrew voters’ photographs on the roll released to stakeholders last week “to protect them”.
Addressing journalists in Harare, Chigumba said: “Following threats by some unscrupulous individuals to track down our registered voters door-to-door, the commission would like to advise that on legal advice, decided not to issue the roll with photographs in an effort to protect voters.”
Chigumba said they had initially wanted to release the roll with voters’ pictures, although they were not obliged at law to do so.
“We are given the exclusive administrative mandate to decide any other information that can be included on the voters’ roll other than first and last names, date of birth, address of the voter ordinarily resides and registration number,” she said.
“The right to access information which as enshrined in the Constitution does not trample the right to privacy which is equally in the Constitution.”
But MDC Alliance principal, Tendai Biti dismissed Chigumba’s claims, accusing her of misinterpreting the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“This is the worst Zec in the history of Zimbabwe. They should do what they do in terms of the law and not in terms of social media. The law says the voters’ roll should be searchable and analysable, it’s elemental, is it not that it can’t be fully searchable and analysable without pictures. They are bloody liars and one day they will burn in hell, this Zec should just disband,” Biti said.
Elections watchdog, Elections Resource Centre (ERC) said Zec was trying to wriggle out of its legal obligations, saying its claim of security risk was disingenuous.
“The law provides for Zec to release voters’ rolls to stakeholders. Given that Zec has been working on a biometric voters’ roll, the expectation was that what would be shared would be a biometric voters’ roll. Biometric voters’ rolls are known to contain biometric features; a photograph of the voter. When Zec announced the release of the voters’ roll, they called it a final voters’ roll. Stating that it is final raised an expectation that what was shared would be what would be used for the election. In the absence of a clear explanation from Zec on why an Excel roll was shared, it was natural that stakeholders would then question the state of the document shared,” ERC said.
“It is curious that Zec now attempts to explain the absence of pictures on the roll which should have been final and thus complete by suggesting security of voters.
Such a security risk should have been anticipated and, hence, explained right from the onset rather than waiting to respond once concerns were raised.”
MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said: “She (Chigumba) is looking for excuses to violate the law, she is a qualified judge and she should respect the intelligence of the people of Zimbabwe. The law allows us to get such information and we should get it.”
In her briefing, Chigumba said all potential voters’ names had been decrypted and added on the final voters’ roll.
“As of now, there are no names which have not been decrypted, when I released the final voters’ roll on June 14, I did expressly said that 16 000 people had been affected who had registered during the inspection period, that their names were going through the final round of AFIS and deduplication and the names were added on the 18th and there are no names who as I speak (have been) affected by lack of decryption,” she said.
But, her claims contrasted her deputy Emmanuel Magade who on June 21 claimed that the decryption process was still ongoing and the names were yet to be added on the voters’ roll.
“Anyone who registered to vote before June 2 on the closure of the voters’ roll will vote in this election in line with the laws of the country,” Magade said then.
“Their names are still to be added to the voters’ roll because this is work in progress, those names will be added to the voters’ roll that will be used during the polls.”
The confusion came a week after Zec said 100 000 people had been excluded from the voters’ roll, owing to a number of reasons.
Those who were on the exclusion list included voters who had registered during the inspection of the provisional voters’ roll to June 2 whose data was still being decrypted.
“The voters’ roll contains 5 681 604 registered voters, this figure excludes those who were registered after the cut-off date of June 1 and those on the exclusion list. The exclusion list include the deceased, those with identification document queries … those whose data is yet to be decrypted who registered during the inspection period,” Zec claimed in a statement last week.
Chigumba added that a total of 1 652 candidates were fighting for the 210 National Assembly seats and of these 247 were independents, while the rest were from 55 political parties.
“As you maybe or may not be aware, we have 1 652 National Assembly candidates, 23 presidential candidates. We have 55 political parties whose candidates were successfully nominated out of our total contingent of 133 political parties, only 55 had candidates who were successfully nominated, we have 247 independent candidates for the National Assembly,” she said.