16 April 2017

Zimbabwe: Biti Plots Diaspora Vote Court Fight

Photo: Cliff Owen/IMF
Tendai Biti (file photo).

RIGHTS lawyer Tendai Biti has thrown himself in the contentious fight for Zimbabweans in the diaspora to vote which is strongly opposed by the government.

Biti is also leader of the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP).

"He (Biti) is currently working with a number of Zimbabweans in diaspora to file an application on the right to vote for the people who live abroad," said PDP in a statement last Thursday.

Diaspora remittances, averaging around US$1billion, have for years contributed significantly to the economically hamstrung economy but a push to allow the millions of exiled Zimbabweans to vote has been blocked by the government.

The Zanu PF-led administration is notoriously wary of non-resident Zimbabweans who left the country largely because of the decade-long economic crisis which is blamed on President Robert Mugabe's policies.

Ahead of the 2013 elections, Patrick Chinamasa, as justice minister then, said there "are 101 reasons why we are not ready for diaspora voting".

He also claimed that Zanu PF leaders could not travel abroad to campaign because of sanctions imposed by the West and described the Zimbabwean Diaspora as a "hostage population only accessible to one" political party.

In October last year, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) claimed that it did not have financial capacity for diaspora voting.

ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau said exiles who want to vote next year must first return home to register and then spend more money going back to cast their ballots next year.

Even so, diaspora voting remains a key demand for the opposition ahead of the 2018 elections. It is as part of the electoral reforms being pushed by 13 political parties under the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA).

Meanwhile, PDP said Biti would also go to the courts to fight for prisoners to be allowed to vote.

"Mr Biti will soon explore the law around the right to vote in national elections for inmates," read the party statement.

The former finance minister will also be the guest of honour at the Annual General meeting of the South African Law Society this Friday. The State of the Profession-Looking Forward is the theme for the conference which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the South African Constitution.

Biti will speak to the challenges lawyers face practicing in constitutional democracies drawing parallels of the environment in South Africa with that in Zimbabwe where, according to PDP, "political interference is high even in the judiciary".

The Law Society of South Africa will bring together its six constituent members -The Black Lawyers Association, the Cape Law Society, the KwaZulu Natal Law Society, the Law Society of Northern Provinces and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers.

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