SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Rights Groups Petition Parliament On Electoral Bill

Three civil society groups have filed a petition expressing their dismay at the speed with which the Electoral Bill is progressing through parliament, as well as the lack of public consultation during the law-making process.

The groups argue that the Electoral Amendment Bill is being rushed through parliament without giving interested Zimbabweans a chance to have their say on this legislation, in "flagrant breach of the constitution".

The three groups are the poll monitors The Election Resource Centre (ERC), empowerment activists Women in Parliament Support Unit (WiPSU), and lobby group Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights).

The Bill has already passed through the Senate where opposition MDC law-makers at one point walked out after their proposals were excluded from the document.

Last week an MDC-T Senator described the Bill as "ugly and undemocratic" while the Election Resource Centre slammed it as an "unconstitutional", "weak" and "deficient" document which will not improve the country's electoral processes.

One of the sticking points is that the proposed law denies Zimbabweans based abroad, or those in hospital and prison, voting rights as spelt out in the new charter.

The groups also want the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to be an independent body with overall authority over the voters roll.

Many Zimbabweans believe ZANU PF used these institutions to commit electoral fraud during last year's polls.

WiPSU director Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma told this station that the electoral bill is also silent on gender issues, which could threaten the participation of women in electoral processes.

Sifelani-Ngoma said they had hoped that the Bill would empower women's assemblies in various parties to facilitate women's bids for political office.

"For example we feel that due to the patriarchal nature of our society women can find it challenging to get enough signatures when seeking nomination to contest in party electoral processes.

"Our proposal is that the electoral bill should articulate, clearly, that chairpersons of women's assemblies can sign nomination forms for women wishing to participate in politics," she said.

The WiPSU director said there was still time for parliament to conduct public hearings on the Electoral Bill.

"The public should be able to feed into the debate on such crucial legislation, and parliament has a role to play in enabling this inclusion. We also hope that the government will take on board proposals coming from citizens so that the final product is democratic," Sifelani-Ngoma added.

Election Resource Centre director Tawanda Chimhini said they filed the petition following strong indications that the Electoral Bill will be fast-tracked to a Second Reading state at the National Assembly, where it was referred to from Senate.

"We saw how the Bill sailed through Senate and we are concerned that the same speed may be replicated in the Lower House which also has powers to suspend standing rules and orders for purposes of fast-tracking bills.

Chimhini said should parliament refuse to allow Zimbabweans to participate in the law-making process they will take their case to the courts.

"Denying people their right to debate laws and make their submissions is unconstitutional, and we are prepared to challenge this at the Constitutional Court."

"We see this electoral bill as a piece-meal attempt at electoral reform. We ask parliamentarians to suspend their political affiliation when dealing with this Bill so that we don't end up with an electoral law that will have to be amended going into the next general election," Chimhini added.

The Electoral Bill is one of several other pieces of legislation that have to be aligned with the country's new constitution which was adopted last year.

On Thursday, civil society groups and representatives from ZANU PF and the MDC-T will address the public on the Electoral Bill at a meeting organised by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network. The meeting is set for the Ambassador Hotel, in Harare, at 5-7pm.

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