Zimbabwe’s opposition parties and rights groups have stepped up calls on the electoral commission to create a new electronic voters’ register before the 2018 election, after allegations of fraudulent registration overshadowed the last vote in 2013.
This comes amid mounting concerns the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is not yet in control of the voters’ roll, with only two years to go before the 2018 election.
A biometric voters’ roll (BVR), which requires time and resources to put in place — captures unique physical features such as fingerprints and facial scans for the purposes of identification instead of the ID number and the photographic image verifiable by the naked eye.
It also uses a more sophisticated and reliable system where physical features unique to each individual are used for purposes of identification.
Yet the Zanu PF government is not willing to start working on it.
Spokesperson of the mainstream MDC Obert Gutu said the possibility of setting up a system of electronic voting should be explored, “but there would have to be tight safeguards to ensure that the system is not misused or distorted by hacking etc.”
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) secretary for elections Settlement Chikwinya says, to eliminate massive rigging, he hoped the BVR will enhance inclusiveness and transparency.
“As PDP, we hope that the BVR will boost people’s confidence as the electoral process will be done in accordance with international principles and standards and reduce electoral theft,” Chikwinya said.
“However, the availability of the BVR before 2018 remains in doubt while the Electoral Act, which is another key element, has not been harmonised with the country’s Constitution to give autonomy to Zec. The BVR is, however, not the sum total of a panacea to a credible election.”
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), which has monitored successive previous elections, said it had overwhelming evidence that the electoral roll used for polls in 2013 was bloated with ineligible voters such as deceased or absent persons as well as duplicate or multiple registrations.
Rights groups said BVR is directly relevant to the realisation of the constitutional principle of universal adult suffrage and the right to vote.
Zesn’s national director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, said it is evident that the current voter registration system and the voters’ roll are grossly unreliable and not fit for purpose and in need of drastic improvement.
“The current method of registration is manual and paper-based, hence discredited,” she said.
“It permits too many loopholes, including duplicate and multiple registrations.
“Verifying of the facial identity of the holder of an ID card is by the naked eye and this is an unreliable method which allows double-voting. Given that this system has been severely criticised, it would be undesirable for Zec to continue with it.”
She said the major problem is that the voter registration system and the voters’ roll are regarded by most stakeholders as untrustworthy, inefficient and lacking credibility.
“This credibility deficit has a negative effect on the entire election process, leading to endless electoral disputes,” Chipfunde-Vava said.
Senior Africa researcher with the New York-based Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said the introduction of BVR is set to bring with it, transparency and enable Zimbabwe to have credible, free and fair elections. He, however, said BVR will not be able to make all electoral problems disappear.
“But introducing BVR alone does not mean all problems will go away because it has its own challenges like high cost to implement, the risk of manipulation of technology to rig numbers and the possibility of system failure,” Mavhinga told the Daily News on Sunday.
“However, with all its defects, a BVR is still a leap forward and should be implemented in Zimbabwe which has, for long, struggled to produce a credible voters’ roll and allegations of fraud and rigging.”
The government is fiercely protective of its control over election law and is resistant to any sort of electronic voting system and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has also balked at the BVR system.
But political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said Zanu PF will eventually agree to the use of BVR, claiming it has very little bearing on electoral outcomes.
“There are influential people in key institutions such as Zec deployed and paid to ensure Mugabe wins,” Ngwenya said.
“So unless opposition parties ‘biometrify’ all electoral institutions and processes, we are simply electrifying the execution”.
Media activist Tabani Moyo said this is a progressive technology assuming that all other factors are in place.
“Our major challenge is that it fits well into the ruling party intimidation machinery, where it will mobilise the marginalised communities on terror, arguing that if you ‘don’t vote correctly’ the system will catch up with the voter,” he said.
“However, the benefits are there. If there is massive civic awareness, it reduces chances for ghost voters and their traditional effect on the electoral outcomes.
“It is therefore prudent that the organisations embark on a massive civic education process to shake off the ghost of fear and resistance to change.”
Media practitioner Rashweat Mukundu said BVR minimises double voting and voting fraud.
“In essence, there is enhanced accuracy in voter identification. On its own, biometric voting will not change much in the absence of a peaceful electoral environment.
“I do not think the ruling party has any problems with this system as it legitimises election results, as long as the broader environment remains what it is.”
Mining activist Farai Maguwu said the main issue is whether Zimbabwe has the resources.
“If not, UNDP or other international funding institutions can come in. There is need to train thousands to carry out the exercise. Time is also a factor, meaning for 2018 it could be too late,” he said.
“It is, however, unlikely that Zanu PF will cooperate with any institution that wants to fund the BVR process as this may be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign State.”
Playwright Raisedon Baya said BVR is a good and transparent way to vote.
“However, I do not see it being used in 2018,” he said.
“Remember the past two election results have been disputed. If there is truth in the rumours that the last two editions were rigged, then obviously the ruling party will try it again.”-DN