ZEC Cannot Disenfranchise Zim Diasporans – ERC

By Moses Chibaya

Harare, November 22, 2016 – THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) does not have powers to regulate who among citizens can or cannot vote in the 2018 elections, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) has said.

The think-tank and advocacy institution on elections and democracy dismissed claims by ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau Zimbabweans based abroad will need to come back home to both register and cast their votes in the make or break polls.

“It is therefore not up to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to determine that citizens outside the country will not be able to vote come 2018, but mandatory for ZEC and other electoral stakeholders to urgently align Electoral Laws with the Constitution, thereby ensuring a level playing field in electoral processes,” ERC director Tawanda Chimhini said in a statement on Tuesday.

Chimhini said the adoption of the new constitution in 2013 opened an opportunity for every Zimbabwe to cast their vote regardless of their geographical location.

“The argument about whether or not Zimbabweans in the Diaspora should vote has been water under the bridge since the adoption of the ‘new’ Constitution of Zimbabwe in 2013 which extended the right to vote to all citizens above the age of 18 years,” he said. 

Chimhini said section 67(3) of the Constitution stipulates that, “every Zimbabwean citizen who is of or over eighteen years of age has the right to vote in all elections and referendums to which this Constitution or any other law applies and to do so in secret.”

Zimbabwe has a very large Diaspora population with most of its citizens abroad having been driven outside by the country’s more than a decade long political and economic turmoil.

Countries playing host to most locals include Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa.

Outside the continent, Zimbabweans are found mostly in countries such as United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States of America.

“Therefore, defining national population in terms of only those within the country and only extending franchise to a few in the diplomatic community is an affront to broad-based electoral democracy,” Chimhini said, adding that democracy entailed giving everybody the opportunity to participate as the outcome of any election also impacts on them. 

“The Diaspora population deserves a chance to contribute to Zimbabwe’s democracy not only because they are Zimbabwean nationals, but because they already constitute a ‘critical mass’ with a lot to contribute to their country other than remitting money,” said Chimhini.

Zimbabwean authorities have often cited logistical challenges for failure to afford Diasporans the chance to vote.

ZEC also says constitutional provisions which permit the Diaspora vote are yet to be operationalised through an Act of Parliament.

But ERC said it is incumbent upon ZEC to set up administrative regulations to cater for Zimbabweans in the Diaspora even without alignment of Electoral Laws with the Constitution in the same manner they conducted voter registration without enabling law.

ERC has since submitted a petition to Parliament of Zimbabwe calling for the alignment of the Electoral Act with the Constitution.