Constitution Watch 21-2013


[15th March 2013]

The Referendum – Progress Review

ZEC set up Committees

National Logistics Committee:  this was divided into subcommittees: Human Resources; Transport and Communication; Finance; Infrastructure.  Members of were drawn from Ministries and their departments and parastatals.  Both ZEC and the subcommittees visited provinces to assess progress.

Media Committee: to monitor media reporting on the Referendum and ensure they fulfil obligations laid down in the Electoral Act  to give equitable and fair coverage to all sides, be accurate, factual and fair, rectify errors promptly, refuse to promote stakeholders encouraging violence, avoid language encouraging discrimination or inciting hatred, violence or contempt.

Observer Accreditation Committee: details of this committee and the accreditation process and fees were given in Constitution Watch 16/2013, and an update on observer accreditation will be in the next Constitution Watch.

ZEC Voter Education

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] deployed two voter educators per ward to inform the electorate on their legal entitlement to vote, what documents to bring to polling stations, the times when polling stations will be opened, how assisted voters will be processed; and generally information relating to the actual conduct and management of the poll [not on the contents of the draft Constitution, as this was done by COPAC and other stakeholders].  The teams used door to door visits, addressed gatherings and meetings and distributed pamphlets.  This outreach programme started on 6th March and ran until 13th March.  ZEC also accredited 15 civic society organisations who had been vetted and trained to assist in voter education and also flighted advertisements in newspapers.

Successful Training of Polling Officials

ZEC managed to train the 70 000 plus polling and other staff needed for the Referendum – this included 56 736 polling officers, with the rest made up of supervisors and returning officers.  ZEC drew on the pool of personnel used by ZEC previously, drawn from the Public Service Commission; local authorities; statutory bodies; and the Health Services Board.  Although, because the Referendum falls in the middle of a teaching term, the Minister of Education asked that teachers should not be used, ZEC in fact had to use teachers, especially in rural areas.  First, trainers were trained, who then trained the other necessary staff.  Training was decentralised to provincial and district levels.  Two days were allowed.  One returning officer and six referendum officers will be deployed at each polling station.  The deployment took into account gender.  Because of transport logistics most personnel were deployed several days before polling.

Polling Stations Ready

9 456 polling stations and have been identified and set up, as have command centres at provincial, district and constituency levels.  Polling compartments and a sufficient number of translucent ballot boxes have been provided at every polling station, along with indelible ink for marking voters’ fingers.  12 million ballot papers have been printed and distributed according to anticipated demand per province. 

The work of ZEC and its subcommittees should be fully reported on in the ZEC Referendum Report which has to be presented to the President and Parliament and the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs [the Ministry responsible for ZEC] as soon as possible after the results are announced, and in any event not later than 6 months thereafter.

Referendum Time-Frame Too Short

Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Eric Matinenga has said his personal opinion is that the Presidential proclamation of 16th March gave too short notice of the Referendum.  This short time-frame between the gazetting of the final draft on 15th February and the Referendum date has impacted on every aspect of preparing for the referendum from funding, to producing Referendum regulations and training, etc.

This was confirmed by a ZEC commissioner at an observer briefing who said ZEC did not have enough time to effectively prepare for the Referendum.

On the whole ZEC has managed well in its administrative decisions given the short notice, but some of its decisions that have legal or political overtones have been made without opportunity for querying them. 

Consequences of Short Time-Frame

ZEC without substantive chairperson until last minute Justice Makarau has been sworn in as the new ZEC chairperson less than a day before the Referendum, meaning that all preparations were headed by the acting chairperson, who, with due respect to her other skills and experience, does not have the legal qualifications specified for a chairperson, a fact which has led to a court challenge.

No postal votes

Diplomatic and other government officials or Zimbabwean on national duty outside the country have the right to postal votes in all elections.  But application forms have to be sent to them and ballot papers delivered and returned, and ZEC said they did not have time to do this. 

Diaspora – the Referendums Act says all Zimbabweans of 18 or above are entitled to vote, but in spite of many requests and the recent ruling of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the millions of Zimbabwean in the Diaspora have been excluded.

No provision for prisoners to vote

According to the Constitution prisoners have the right to vote unless serving a jail term of six months or more.  But no prisoners will be able to exercise their rights in the Referendum.   ZEC has said that limited resources and time prevented them organising voting for prisoners.

No time to change IDs

The Referendums Act says any citizen entitled to register as a voter can vote in a Referendum.  ZEC changed the requirements to prove entitlement so as to make production of a valid passport, ID or waiting “pass” showing citizenship essential.  Many Zimbabweans, especially those of Malawian, Mozambican or Zambian descent, are in fact citizens entitled to register for the vote, but hold old ID cards marked “alien” because have not been able to get new IDs because of the expense, time and travel involved in doing so.  For purposes of the Referendum they have effectively been disenfranchised, as have those who have taken out citizenship but because of delays do not have IDs.

ZEC website out of date

The Referendum regulations stipulated that the polling stations must be posted on the ZEC website at least 48 hours before the Referendum.  This has not been done.  However, ZEC met the stipulation that polling stations must be gazetted and published in the press at least 48 hours before polling.

ZEC telephone enquiry provisions inadequate

Review of Draft Constitution Familiarisation Exercises

COPAC Familiarisation Outreach Meetings

A few days ago, Manicaland provincial co-chairperson for the parliamentary committee responsible for the draft constitution said he was worried by the poor public turnout at events called to review the draft.  He said political parties had not done enough to mobilize and publicise the COPAC outreach programmes.  IRIN reported that rural communities were largely unaware of the impending referendum: "There has not been adequate publicity around it. People have not seen the draft, and because the entire process was politicized, people generally shunned the process and lost interest."

Not enough copies of draft

COPAC did not produce nearly enough copies of the draft constitution or of their summary – and most were in English.  There were only 200 Braille copies of the draft constitution for a population of 40,000 blind people.  The summary was criticised by some analysts as not an entirely accurate reflection of the full draft constitution, and this caused some mistrust. 

Complaints over short timeframe

These complaints were raised at meeting an in letters to the press

MDC pull out of COPAC familiarisation campaign

The MDC led by their President Welshman Ncube were only allocated outreach meetings in the Matabeleland provinces in contrast to the other two GPA parties who were both to cover the whole country.  They objected to this and pulled out of COPAC schedules and did their own education programme throughout the country.

Civic Society organisations were asked to help COPAC familiarise citizens with the draft constitution.  They were expected to sign a memorandum of understanding saying they would promote the YES vote and some objected to this.  Also, the short notice prevented CSOs and other parties raising funding and producing enough materials for education campaigns.

Police stopped some meetings

·        The Prime Minister’s meeting to promote the YES vote in a Harare suburb was cancelled by police who threatened to disperse the crowd by teargas.

·        Meetings by those advocating a NO vote, such as National Constitutional Assembly, some unions and youth organisations, were not given police clearance.

·        A meeting at the Media Centre was refused clearance.

Other Problems

·        There has on the whole been very little education done by the media on the draft constitution owing to its having been gazetted only a month ago.  What was offered pushed for a YES vote, and those advocating a NO vote were not given opportunities to explain their position. 

·        Churches are now making objections over some aspects of the constitution which they have only recently become aware of and some are belatedly advocating a NO vote.  But most have said they will accept it but negotiate for changes later.

·        Smaller parties have been left out of the whole process.  Some, such as Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn and MDC99, have advocated a NO vote

·        All three GPA parties have promised to change the constitution if they get into power.

·        Above all there is a general feeling that the two major parties used the YES vote campaign for promoting their parties ahead of the elections.

Effect of These Problems

These problems are unlikely to affect the outcome of the Referendum.  With the three GPA parties advocating a YES vote, it is sure to be approved.  But this could also mean that except for party members turning out to vote on the instructions of their party, there will be considerable voter apathy. 

This apathy and the number of people excluded from voting are of concern.  The whole object of the constitution-making exercise was to produce a constitution which citizens were enthusiastic about and for which there was a sense of  ownership, and to promote a culture of constitutionalism.


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