BY SILAS NKALA
CIVIC society organisations have called for urgent reform of the country’s laws to ensure that uniformed forces enjoy their right to vote in privacy and avoid situations where they are forced to cast their postal ballots in the presence of their bosses.
The calls were made last week during a virtual conference organised by Rural Communities Empowerment Trust (Rucet) to discuss parliamentary perspectives on electoral reforms and the civic society’s role in pushing for reforms.
Rucet board member Thembelani Dube said: “Uniformed forces’ voting privacy must be respected, they must not be made to vote in front of their bosses.”This came following reports that in the run-up to the July 2018 election, police officers were ordered to cast their postal votes in front of their bosses.
The voting was reportedly held in the absence of officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, observers and party agents.
Concerns were also raised that retired army personnel formed the bulk of the Zec secretariat, thereby compromising the integrity of the electoral body.
“How then can we trust the independence of Zec considering that some of them are deployed or rather employed on partisan lines to be specific the retired army personnel?” asked one participant.
MDC Alliance Matabeleland North chairperson Prince Dubeko Sibanda said the fact that the electoral body currently reports to the Justice minister compromises its independence.
“The (Electoral Amendment) Bill also provides for special registered voters who are unable to be at the polling station on the polling day by reason of employment in essential or security services that there should be a special provision on how these people can vote,” Sibanda said.
“We are also looking forward to empowering the electoral body to deal with traditional leaders. We know that the current law does not allow traditional leaders to involve themselves in politics.”
Sibanda, who is also the legislator for Binga North and chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, said they were aware that traditional leaders and security forces had in the past involved themselves in partisan politics.
“So we want the commission to be empowered to take corrective measures against those offenders,” he said.
“We also want to make sure that the commission has power to take action in respect of infringements of the code of conduct for political parties and candidates and other stakeholders. We are aware that we have a code of conduct in existence but the reality is that the commission has no power to take action against the offenders.
“The commission should also be empowered to postpone the elections when it looks at the environment and thinks that it is not conducive. Under the current laws, it is only the President who can proclaim the election and an election is unpostponable.”