Zec seeks to gag social media

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Zimbabwe Electoral Commission

BY TAFADZWA KACHIKO

THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) wants Twitter and Facebook to pull down “damaging posts” about its handling of elections.

The election management body also wants Parliament to regulate election-related material posted on social media ahead of the 2023 elections.

Zec’s credibility is in tatters following the March 26 by-elections after data experts unearthed irregularities in the voters roll, including changes to 156 polling stations while 177 000 voters were relocated from their polling stations without their knowledge.

Zec later disowned the voters roll saying it was tampered with to discredit the elections body.

Spokesperson Jasper Mangwana said: “We are trying to just follow what other countries are doing to ensure that towards an election there is no misinformation and disinformation which may cause instability and violence.

“Those who post incorrect information will be asked to pull it down because we noted that there is a lot of false information peddled online. The commission would have a proper way to ensure that there is no (bad) information which would have implications on free and credible elections.”

Mangwana’s statement immediately attracted brickbats from the opposition with Citizens Coalition for Change interim spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, saying it is undemocratic and unconstitutional.

“Instead of stifling constitutional freedoms we expect Zec to be championing the electoral reform agenda, pushing for amendments to the Electoral Act to ensure that its work is fully facilitated and the law is aligned to the Constitution,” Mahere
said.

Mahere cited sections 68 and 209 of the Constitution, which mandates Zec to be accountable to citizens, and “to act in a manner that is lawful, reasonable and fair”.

“We don’t expect them to be silencing citizens. In fact, Zec is acting in a partisan and unconstitutional manner which doesn’t want to see free and fair elections. It must act lawfully and reasonably or it should be disbanded,” she said.

MDC-T chairoerson Mogern Komichi said Parliament should not be used to rubber stamp oppressive laws to manipulate social media.

“Zec is trying to close the democratic space. It wants to be a police force and use intimidation to suppress constructive criticism. Social media is used to educate voters and raise awareness,” Komichi said.

Labour, Economists and African Democrats president Linda Masarira said: “Zimbabweans must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression to raise grievances and openly criticise where they feel Zec will be going wrong so that it can use that input to correct and reform.”

Election Resource Centre programmes manager Solomon Bobosibunu said Zec should address its communication deficiencies regarding its handling of elections.

“It will be more appropriate to be proactive in providing information which is complete, accurate and on time rather than to wait and respond after citizens have looked for information elsewhere,” Bobasibunu said.

Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust executive director Igneous Sadziwa said Zec should stick to its mandate and commit to manage elections impartially.

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