By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Harare – The election temperature is rising in Zimbabwe with political parties mobilizing supporters to register ahead of next year’s harmonised elections.
Unlike previous elections, next year’s polls will see the introduction of the Biometric Voters Roll (BVR) which electronically captures human features for purposes of identifying or authenticating the identity of an individual.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) headed by Justice Rita Makarau has moved a gear up in educating the electorate about the new voting system, which observers say is more transparent and highly efficient. ZEC, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has invited bidders for the supply of goods and services for its outreach programme meant to educate voters of the new voting system.
Although the dates for the publicity campaigns are yet to be set, tenders for the supply of the goods and services are scheduled to close on July 25.
In a recent media briefing, Justice Makarau said: “The commission would like to assure the public of its commitment to the success of the 2018 harmonised elections by ensuring that all processes leading to the elections are conducted in a transparent and professional manner.”
She said ZEC would soon engage all stakeholders to update them on issues related to the preparations for next year’s elections.
ZEC’s assurance comes on the heels of attempts by opposition political parties to pour cold water on the BVR system. The opposition political parties led by MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai are insisting that the purchase of the equipment must be undertaken by the United Nations. However, despite their reservations, opposition parties have hit the ground running and are urging supporters to register.
It appears the ruling Zanu-PF party has covered a lot of groundwork, mobilising supporters to register, particularly the youth through its Presidential Interface rallies.
Besides the Youth League’s Presidential Interface meetings, Zanu-PF has also tasked its top officials in the party’s Politburo (the highest decision making body outside Congress) to lead the registration campaign in all the country’s 10 provinces.
But Zanu-PF’s campaign machinery did not start this year. Way back in 2015, the revolutionary party started putting its campaign wheels in motion with the party’s national spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo urging youths to register as voters.
“The youths constitute almost 60 percent of the population and therefore we are appealing to all those above the age of 18 years to fulfill their role of defending our sovereignty by registering to participate in the elections,” said Moyo.
He said the youths needed to invest their future in a leader who has led a morally upright life, is diligent, hard working and has prioritised defending the sovereignty of the nation for the sake of the people.
Not to be outdone, Tsvangirai recently ordered party structures to mobilise supporters, particularly the youths, to register as voters in preparation for the 2018 polls.
“Let’s go and mobilise our people so that they can register as voters especially the youths. We need to launch a massive voter education so that we can remove Zanu-PF from power,” said Tsvangirai sounding very unconvincing in light of his health concerns, which this week saw him leaving the country for medical check-ups in South Africa. Tsvangirai has said he has colon cancer.
The odds are surely tilted against the opposition party which since 2013 has boycotted by-elections and ruled out participating in any future elections because of alleged non-implementation of reforms.
Already attempts to amalgamate all opposition political entities to contest against Zanu-PF’s President Mugabe have floundered. While Tsvangirai and a coterie of his supporters want him to lead the coalition, other political parties think otherwise. They argue that the former Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) secretary-general lacks the mantle to take on President Mugabe after having lost numerous elections in the past.
Leading the pack in opposing Tsvangirai’s leadership of the coalition is former Zanu-PF Vice President Joice Mujuru who now leads the National People’s Party (NPP). At a briefing on Tuesday, Mujuru told journalists that Tsvangirai must desist from setting deadlines for the coalition to be consummated.
“We do not have a deadline for the coalition yet.
What I am saying is that July 31 is not a practical date. It should be stressed that it is not about the date, but finding trust with each other.
“Unfortunately, there are some people who have a big brother attitude. Let us work together and let us not attack each other in public,” Mujuru said as she signed an electoral pact with Gilbert Dzikiti of the Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (Dare).
Mujuru is already running her own parallel campaign and judging by her statements she is convinced of having a better chance of unseating President Mugabe than Tsvangirai.
Mujuru recently addressed party youths during an interactive meeting at Rylands Farm, Harare where she said that she was just a transitional leader as younger people should take over the running of the country.
“As young people, you must use your education to mobilise voters because leaders of my generation are now old.
I am 62 years old, so you must take advantage of the little time that you have with me to learn about leadership because the future belongs to you,” she said.
Analysts believe the leadership bickering within the opposition camp augers well for Zanu-PF, which despite its own internal contradictions is solidly united behind President Mugabe as its candidate for 2018.
Political analyst Takaedza Nyawanza said the advantage that Zanu-PF has was that it was structurally stronger than all the opposition parties combined.
“Zanu-PF is structurally well oiled. All other opposition political parties are structurally weak particularly in rural areas where the country’s larger population resides.
You can identify a Zanu-PF cell, ward, district and provincial member even at village level but the same cannot be said of the MDC-T or any other political entities,” said Nyawanza.
Nyawanza said despite his advanced age, President Mugabe will win the elections because of the enduring reforms he has implemented during his rule especially on the issue of land and indigenization.
Nyawanza scoffed at calls by MDC-T leader for the biometric voting equipment to be purchased by the United Nations as a lame excuses of a failed leader.
“Zimbabwe is a sovereign functional democracy. Why should it bestow the holding of its elections to a UN body as if it’s a pariah state?
Tsvangirai may be aware that he has no chance of defeating President Mugabe and is already throwing innuendos to illegitimatise the election outcome.”
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a non-governmental organization that deals with voter education, has thrown its support behind the BVR system saying it will enhance transparency in that it will capture particular biometric features like finger print or facial image of every voter, storing it in an automated system.
When an individual attends on polling day, he or she will be identified by their finger print or facial image.
In a statement, which rubbishes the opposition’s reservations over the new system, ZESN said: “This will replace the current manual system which relies on the national identification (ID) number and ID picture for purposes of authenticating the identity of the voter on polling day. Under the current system, when a person registers to vote, they must supply their national ID and on polling day, their identity will be verified against that ID.
This manual system is slow, inefficient and fraught with risks of duplicate registrations and double-voting.”
In terms of Section 239 of the Constitution, the sole responsibility of registering voters and compiling a voters’ roll rests with ZEC.
The commission compiles voters’ rolls and registers and ensures the proper custody and maintenance of such.
A number of countries in Africa are increasingly turning to the biometric voter registers to promote fair and credible elections.
BVR systems have gained favour because they prevent duplicate registrations, easier to use when registering and identifying voters, are more inclusive and promote a quick and efficient process of voting.
According to ZESN, the voting population for the entire country is projected to increase from 6.8 million in 2012 to 7.2 million in 2018. Of the 7.2 million, approximately 3.3 million are men while 3.9 million are women.