16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: GNU Divided Over Proposed On-Line Voter Registration

The proposal has seen the techno-savvy political parties -- both formations of the MDC -- rooting for on-line voter registration while the techno-peasant ZANU-PF says it will have none of it.

MDC secretary-general, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, threw do-wn the gauntlet last week when she called for the introduction of mobile registration points, arguing that the present process was "unnecessarily cumbersome," and that it discouraged the younger generation from registering as voters.

She argued that if implemented as soon as possible, it would push up youth voter turnout from 18 percent which was recorded during the 2008 elections to a more significant number adding that internet-based registration would also ensure that Zimbabweans outside the country were able to register without necessarily having to travel back home.

But ZANU-PF national spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo this week said the MDC was merely seeking to complicate matters.

"The MDC has failed to run the economy and they are now calling for something which is not so easy and sustainable. Why would you want to present yourself as so much developed when you are not? Let's stick to what we already have instead of complicating things," he said, adding that Zimbabweans in the Diaspora wishing to participate in the polls should come back home and register and then vote.

Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede, has also rejected the MDC's proposal saying on-line voter registration would present a number of challenges to the electoral process. He said the majority of the rural population has no access to the Internet and will not benefit from the proposal.

"Online registration does not have adequate checks and balances to detect electoral fraud. There is a strong probability that some people will be involved in the abuse of passwords to register or transfer voters without their consent to deliberately distort and corrupt the voter's roll," said Mudede.

The Registrar General cited the requirement for proof of residence of voters and their physical identification as some of the challenges to the online system.

Section 24 of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13) states that any person who wishes to be registered as a voter on the voters' roll for any constituency shall present himself or herself at the appropriate registration office in order for the prescribed claim form to be completed on his or her behalf by the constituency registrar, deputy constituency registrar or assistant constituency registrar.

Despite resistance from ZANU-PF, Christopher Mungofa of Mava-mbo/Kusile/Dawn said the system would complement the mobile registration exercise and all that was needed to make it successful was to publicise it widely.

While describing the suggestion as "quite an interesting proposal", Nelson Chamisa, the MDC-T national organising secretary, said online voter registration must also cover even the cleaning of the voters' roll to ensure credible elections.

"As an ICT Minister, I would like to urge the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to join the rest of the world and move with times by introducing a biometric (electronic) voters' roll and I believe that is possible because where there is a will there is always a way," said Chamisa.

Mark Mbaiwa, ZAPU's southern region coordinator, said the country still has a lot of time to implement the proposal ahead of the elections.

"We will always support anything that would make people go and vote and there is still time for online voter registration to be introduced as I don't see elections being held before the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly in August," he said.

Meanwhile, ZANU-PF has rejected a proposal by its partners in the inclusive government, including civil society to hold a national debate specifically on policy offerings, ideologies and party positions for all presidential hopefuls ahead of elections.

Gumbo said the idea of a presidential debate was nonsensical and hogwash as ZANU-PF's rivals had no policies to offer the electorate hence it would be useless to even engage with them.

"There is no debate that can be held in the country with our President as there is no substance from the other political parties," he said.

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