BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has banned Civic Society Organisation (CSOs) that are not accredited with them from conducting voters’ education, a move viewed as a blow to voter mobilisation efforts ahead of the 2023 elections.
The ban comes at a time when opposition parties and civic groups have accused Zec of lack of transparency on the voters roll after the electoral body recently released disputed figures of newly-registered voters.
On Friday, Zec published a list of 76 CSOs that it has approved to conduct voter education countrywide. This then triggered uproar amongst other civic organisations that have of late been involved in voter education, but have not been accredited by the electoral body.
Since last year, various political parties and civic groups have been encouraging eligible voters to register.
Zec spokesperson, Commissioner Joyce Kazembe yesterday told The Standard that only the organisations that were approved by the electoral body would be allowed to conduct voter education and that those that were not listed could not do so, without violating the law.
The commission also said it would monitor all the activities of the CSOs that had been given the nod to perform the task of voter education, as well as the materials that they would be using during the campaigns. Only material approved by the commission could be used in the voter education exercise, she said.
Zec said it would also monitor the CSOs programmes as stipulated in the Electoral Act.
“The procedure is that anyone who wants to engage in voter education must submit an application to the commission,” Kazembe said. “They will be stating their particulars and the activities they want to conduct. The content must be approved by the commission.”
“Those that are not on the list that we submitted, but are conducting voters’ education must not be doing that without permission. They must stop forthwith. They must do that only after they have been registered with us. Those that are doing that have been doing so illegally,” Kazembe said.
Some of the organisations that have of late been conducting voter education, but are not on the Zec list include Project Vote 263.
Recently, Project Vote 263 claimed that it had facilitated registration of 9 635 new voters throughout the country in 2021.
Project Vote 263 however claims that it is constitutionally mandated to conduct voter education.
Project Vote 263 chairperson Alan Chipoyi said: “We will continue encouraging people to vote. Zec has no mandate to select the parties that are consulting, but they can regulate the content that is disseminated. We are conducting a constitutional mandate to encourage citizens to register to vote and no one will stop us from carrying out that mandate.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), a conglomeration of over 80 civic society organisations said the accreditation process would create unnecessary bureaucracy. They also said the requirement was meant to frustrate the voters’ mobilisation campaign.
“It is not a crime to mobilise people to vote,” CiZC spokesperson Orbert Masaraure said. “Casting a vote is a constitutional right; hence people need to acquire the necessary information that will enhance them to make informed decision on that key right. When the electoral body then starts the vetting process, it becomes problematic. CSOs should proceed with the voters education drive ensuring that they are following the constitutional dictates.”
Last week, Zec torched a storm following its announcement that only 2 000 virgin voters were registered in 2021. It later revised the number to 2 971, after opposition political parties and civic groups challenged its statistics on newly-registered voters
On Thursday Zec announced plans to remove 35 085 names of deceased persons from the voters’ roll, two months after identifying only 22 000 deceased voters on the roll, which sparked public outcry.
Meanwhile, Zec has published a list of voter registration centres in rural areas. The list shows that the centres are so far apart that people would need to travel long distances to be able to register to vote.
While urban dwellers have the option to register online, Zec established one registration centre in each district, located at the growth points.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe told The Standard: “We are going to be rolling out our biometric voter registration (BVR) kits so that we get closer to the people. It is our plan, and we should have done that earlier, but we were waiting for the youth to get their identity cards first. We are sure that we will roll out the BVR exercise in the first quarter of this year. On whether we will get there before the holding of the by elections, the matter is still under discussion.”