March 22, 2004

Move to amend electoral act

The Government has proposed a number of amendments to the Electoral Act ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. This comes in the wake of wide debate on the pending general elections, with the opposition MDC threatening to boycott the polls. The Electoral Amendment Bill, which was published in the Government Gazette, proposes to amend a number of clauses concerning issues such as voter education, the voters’ roll and postal ballots, among others. It seeks to insert a new part in the principal Act, which deals with voter education. This clause will empower the Electoral Supervisory Commission with the function of supervising voter education. The commission shall provide accurate and unbiased voter education and ensure voter education provided by persons other than political parties is adequate and not misleading or biased in favour of any political party. It may appoint any person to assist it in providing voter education. No person other than the commission or the person it appoints shall provide voter education unless such person is a citizen or permanent resident of Zimbabwe or an organisation consisting of Zimbabwean citizens or permanent residents.

Such persons or organisations will conduct voter education in accordance with a course or programme of instruction furnished or approved by the commission. The voter education of such persons or organisations must be funded by local contributions or donations. The commission may, in writing, require any person, other than a political party, providing or proposing to provide voter education, to furnish it with all the voter education materials proposed to be used and details of the people to conduct the voter education as well as disclose the manner and sources of funding of its proposed voter education activities. Any person who fails to comply with the requirements of the commission shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both. No foreign contribution or donation for voter education shall be made except to the commission, which may allocate such funding to those allowed to conduct voter education. The Bill allows the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to assign any person in the employment of the State to perform secretarial and administrative functions for the commission. It has a clause that seeks to permit any member of the public to inspect the voters’ roll and make any written notes of anything contained in the roll.

The Bill also seeks to permit the Registrar General to strike a voter’s name off the voters’ roll or reject his claim for registration without prior notice to him/her if such notice stating that he/she has ceased to be a citizen of Zimbabwe has been published in the Government Gazette or newspaper circulating in that area. Another clause seeks to permit the Registrar General and constituency registrars to effect transfers of applicants seeking transfer to a constituency in which they are either resident or non-resident upon satisfying that they are entitled to such transfer. Any person who wishes to be registered as a voter in any constituency shall complete the appropriate prescribed claim form and lodge it in person with, or despatch it by registered post, to the constituency registrar or any such person designated by the Registrar General. The Registrar General or constituency registrar may demand from those seeking to register as voters proof of identity or residence in the constituency or both. Proof of identity means a valid Zimbabwean passport or identity document issued in terms of the National Registration Act.

The Bill also seeks to create the new offence of defacing property for political purposes to the effect that anyone guilty of such an offence will be liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both. The Bill will be presented to Parliament for debate and approval. (The Herald, Harare)

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