Next week Zimbabwe goes to the referendum to decide whether to adopt the draft constitution as the supreme law of the country or not. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is tasked under the national law to conduct the voting. Our senior reporter Fortious Nhambura (FN) caught up with ZEC acting Chairperson Mr Joyce Kazembe (JK) to hear the commission's preparedness for the referendum and the impending elections.
FN: The country is heading for the referendum next week. Our readers may want to know how prepared is the commission to conduct the voting. Are all the logistics in place?
JK: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been preparing for the referendum since the Proclamation date gazetted on February 15, 2013. Voting ink has been procured and is currently being decanted, that is, at the ten (10) provincial centres. The 12 million batch of the ballot paper has been printed at Fidelity Printers and Refiners. Dispatch to provinces began yesterday on the 8 March 8 2013. All other election materials have been procured and dispatching is currently taking place. Voter education has started with deployment of two voter educators per ward. This is being complemented by advertising in the electronic and print media.
FN: How long will the voting process take? All things being equal, when should the country get the results of referendum following the voting?
JK: Polling takes place in one day from 0700hours to 1900hours. Counting starts soon after close of poll at all polling stations. The new law states that election results must be released within 5 days.
FN: Can you appraise our readers on the procedural differences between a referendum and harmonised elections? Who can vote? Do we have a special voters' roll for the referendum?
JK: In a referendum, voters vote to decide on an opinion of national importance where they normally vote Yes or No. In the current referendum, those eligible to vote will vote at any polling station anywhere in the country. Voters must be 18 years and above, Zimbabwean citizens, and must take with them a metal or plastic identity card or a paper waiting pass with a photograph of the bearer, or valid Zimbabwean passport. Eligible voters need not be registered voters. Hence there is no special voters roll for the referendum. However, in an election, all voters must be registered in the voters roll, in a particular ward.
FN: Critical to any election is the issue of voter sensitisation or campaign period. Many people are worried that the period of three weeks has been too short to ensure all the voters are aware of the contents of the draft constitution. Is the period enough for the process? What is your comment?
JK: ZEC is not responsible for Draft Constitution awareness programme; it is the responsibility of COPAC and hence the latter are in a better position to answer this question. ZEC is conducting a voter education drive to educate the electorate on how to express their opinion in a referendum process and the attendant document requirements.
FN: There were media reports that ZEC would be printing 12 million ballot papers for next week's referendum. If I may ask, why such a huge number when the adult population is only half of the country's population which is estimated at about 13 million people? Won't these ballot papers be abused?
JK: Yes, ZEC has printed 12 million ballot papers to cater for the unpredictability of voters who will turn up at a single polling station. Note that there is no control factor like the voters roll that would direct voters to specific wards in a normal general election. ZEC is aware that about 5,5 million are registered voters, but we did not know how many of the eligible but unregistered voters will actually turn up to vote and where. What is key is that at every polling station all issued ballot papers must be recorded and accounted both before and after polling so that there sum total of used and unused ballot papers tally with the initial count before the beginning of the poll. Observers are advised to take note of the figures either way.
JK: The completion of the referendum process automatically signals the beginning for the preparations for the harmonised elections. The Commission has been struggling with funding. Have you secured enough funds to deal with the two voting process in the same year?
FN: Funds are being released in batches as per need by Government. We expect the State to supply adequate resource for the plebiscite as it has always done previously despite and in spite of economic challenges.
FN: ZEC had planned a voter registration exercise for January 2013 but that could not take off because of lack of funds. When should people expect the registration exercise?
JK: Voter registration is a continuous exercise. However, the Registrar General of Voters usually undertakes an outreach voter registration exercise, that is, going out to the villages and wards for ease of reach by potential voters and inspection by those already registered. The RGV and the Commission still hopes to undertake the exercise after the referendum should the State provide the financial resources (about $23 million) that are required for both the voter education drive prior to and for the actual registration/the outreach programme.
FN: Some political parties have alleged that ZEC is staffed with Zanu-PF members and sympathisers and that has compromised its work. You head the organisation. What is your comment to the allegations?
JK: Every staff member of ZEC was properly recruited following transparent labour practices and was appointed based on qualification for the task. Where one used to work prior to the appointment is of no consequence, like in any other concern in Zimbabwe.
FN: What is the current state of the voters' roll that some political parties allege is in shambles?
JK: The voters roll is being continuously updated and the outreach programme will address some of the issues raised, like removal of deceased persons who can, by law, only be removed after production of a death certificate or requisite sworn affidavit.
FN: One of the issues on the code of conduct for political parties is not to announce election results before they are declared official by the Chief Elections Officer. Do you see yourself being able to enforce this requirement given that political parties are involved in the counting and verification of the results through political agents?
JK: For the referendum, there are no elections or polling agents. However political parties can apply to be accredited as referendum observers only; they witness counting but are not the counters. Those present during and after the count will have copies of the results at each polling station, ward, constituency, district electoral office and provincial office. However, they may not tally the results and make announcements. It is now a criminal offence to do and whoever does that will be prosecuted. Only the ZEC CEO has the legal mandate to declare the referendum results.