Information amongst Citizens key towards Electoral Integrity
The 2018 harmonised elections are set to be historic owing to the adoption of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system, which is aimed at enhancing the conducting of democratic, free and fair elections. Significant strides have already been done by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in preparation for the voter registration processes which commences on September 14 2017. However, it is imperative for ZEC to transparently and with accountability ensure the consistent and diligent roll out the BVR process to uphold the integrity of this new approach to registration for the electorate to trust it as a legitimate process. This process also creates an opportunity for civil society to monitor the BVR process and advocate for the upholding of electoral integrity of the 2018 elections.
As part of the preparation for the elections, ZEC is conducting training of trainers sessions for BVR operators, multi-stakeholder workshops and media broadcasting as part of public awareness on the electronic registration process. Additionally, 400 BVR equipment have already been handed to ZEC and are currently being used to facilitate the on-going training of trainers on their operational procedures. In the same vein, the registrar general’s office embarked on a national campaign to facilitate birth certificates and national identification registration, through setting up Mobile Registration Centres in the country’s major business centres and growth points. TI Z’s Accountability Monitoring Committee (AMC) from Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, Mutare and parts of Harare reported that massive birth and I.D registration is taking place in most wards, although some residents are being turned away due to lack of required documentation such as parent’s identification documents for birth certification.
Apart from the personal identification issue that is likely to impinge citizen’s ability to register under the BVR, there is evidence of misinformation and confusion on the dates, venue and requirements of the BVR. Chief among these fears is the demonization of the metal identification card which was alleged to be non-BVR compliant. Though ZEC has dispelled these claims, some citizens are still confused about the issue and some stakeholders are already speculating that they may be a high level of voter apathy and possible electoral rigging.
TI Z urges ZEC to strengthen its voter education strategy and create the necessary inclusiveness required by working with other interested parties to spread the word. Further assistance should be accorded to first time voters who may not have all the documentation required for various reasons. The Registrar General’s Office is well aware and it is common cause that this is a society where there is a significant number of potential young voters who are Aids orphans with no hope of finding death certificates or other proof because of the manner in which they may have been uprooted once they were orphaned. TI Z also recommends that ZEC should adopt multiple communication tools to disseminate information to various illegible voters, particularly social media, given the urgency and importance of the BVR to the proper conduct of the 2018 elections. Since this BVR process is a learning curve for ZEC and the rest of society, the body should establish a rapid response mechanism to anticipated and unforeseen circumstances threatening the BVR process.
TI Z is of the view that the progress already made in the preparatory phase of elections is a step in the right direction and hopes ZEC will do everything in its power to reach a critical number transparently, accountably and with the objective of encouraging electoral integrity.