15 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Voter Registration Exercise in Shambles

PARTISAN politics has marred the on-going voter registration exercise countrywide with reports from civil society groups and MDC-T officials in Manicaland, Mashonaland Central and Matabeleland alleging that village heads and various registration offices are prohibiting people from registering to vote on the basis of their political affiliation.

The voter registration exercise launched last month by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has also come under the spotlight after police this week raided offices of the National Youth Development Trust in Bulawayo and Zimbabwe Peace Project in Harare confiscating mobile phones and office equipment alleging the groups were involved in illegal voter registration activities.

Last week hordes of army, police officers and their relatives were reportedly being bussed in from barracks and camps in Harare and Bulawayo allegedly for forced registration.

MDC-T national spokesperson and Nyanga North MP Douglas Mwonzora told the Zimbabwe Independent on Wednesday that party supporters in his constituency were being turned away by officials and village heads were refusing to issue them with letters required as proof of residence.

"Most youths in my area are being turned away at the registry office in Nyamaropa. They are not registering people at all," said Mwonzora.

"One day people go to register and they (officials) say they are not registering, the next day they would say they have too many people, even if only 20 people would have come. People are not being given letters by their kraal heads and some are charging people US$1 for the letter."

Mwonzora further alleged there were Zanu PF supporters resident in Mozambique crossing the Kairezi River on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border to register in Nyanga, while MDC supporters resident in Zimbabwe were being denied registration.

Details received by the Independent on Wednesday showed in the Zanu PF stronghold of Mashonaland Central, village heads called for meetings where they decided to refuse to register MDC supporters.

Sources say village heads are collecting photocopies of people's identity documents to keep a register of those registered to vote, but residents in these rural communities fear the photocopies could be used to track down opposition supporters in future.

Thabani Moyo, director of Bulawayo Agenda, said there were numerous problems in the Matabeleland provinces and blamed Zec for lack of organisation.

Moyo also said Lupane village heads were refusing to register people because they are not accepting voter registration as a government but political party initiative while in parts of Hwange those intending to register are reportedly being charged US$2.

"The reports we are getting are that people in Gwanda, Lupane, Gokwe, Hwange and Bulawayo are experiencing challenges with people accessing voter registration because of the manner in which Zec is conducting itself," said Moyo.

"In Lupane, traditional leaders are not upfront; they are not willing to give people letters because they say voter registration is not a national process, but a party-driven process so people are told to go to their parties and register."

He added the lack of uniformity in voter registration requirements and the registration process raised fears of a low voter turnout in the constitutional referendum and general election due to be held this year.

"We are concerned at the lack of preparedness and we fear this will reduce the number of people who will come out to vote."

Meanwhile, the Registrar-General (RG) and Zec have been accused of abetting the military's intervention in the make-or-break polls.

Sources told this paper the RG's Office has set up a clandestine satellite voter registration point at the United Bulawayo Hospitals' out-patients department catering exclusively for soldiers.

"It is a secret unmarked point consisting of one table which is supposed to be known only by the soldiers who are bussed in from their barracks at Imbizo and One Brigade Headquarters to register as voters. They have letters signed by their commanders confirming proof of residence," said one source.

Bulawayo East MP Thabitha Khumalo (MDC-T) said it was disturbing that the out-patients department had been turned into a voter registration point for soldiers who are being bussed in from as far as Mbalabala in Matabeleland South and even Manicaland.

"They (Zanu PF) have realised that it will be difficult to win, hence these desperate measures," said Khumalo.

The MDC aspiring candidate for Bulawayo Central Qhubani Moyo expressed outrage over the satellite voter registration point and said he would be filing a complaint with Zec.

"Clearly, the credibility of the elections is under threat and I will be engaging Zec," said Moyo. "It (Zec) must put its house in order and act on the illegal behaviour of the Registrar-General," he said, adding that the electoral body should "shoulder the blame for the intervention of the military which is trying to save (President) Robert Mugabe from defeat".

Zec did not respond to the questions sent to them.

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