Home » Governance » Diaspora Vote – the Pros and Cons [analysis]

The most prevalent carping remark provoked by any talk of a National Diasporan Policy is “We want our vote”. This has been a detraction from the main thrust of a wider Diasporan policy framework. We have therefore decided to focus on the topic of a Diaspora vote this week. Like all political debates, it will benefit more from an open mind and maturity from all interlocutors.

The major argument being aanced by those who aocate to participate in Zimbabweans elections from their bases is that the Diasporans contribute over US$2 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year. This therefore entitles them to some recognition and should obligate their governments to facilitate them to vote from wherever they are based.

Those that oppose this argument contend that this money is not going through the fiscus and therefore not taxation. Much of this money is for familial social support therefore whilst it covers a lot of what a government would have been expected to do for its citizens, it is still not taxation.

One cannot say that simply because they look after their mother or siblings therefore they should be given a vote. If everyone in Zimbabwe who looks after their folks was stopped from paying taxes then the Government would not function. At the heart of this argument is the fact that the Zimbabwean Diaspora should not be lobbying for a vote unless they are prepared to pay taxes.

Is it taxation or citizenship which should determine who votes in an election? In Britain practically every taxpayer votes regardless of their citizenship.

The United States levies taxes on its expatriates income and allows them to participate in all its elections and referenda. The old slogan “No taxation without representation” comes to mind. So Americans are taxed on everything they earn from anywhere in the world. Eritrea has started taking 2 percent of all UK earnings from its Diasporans for use back home.

One can already hear apoplectic shouts from the Zimbabwean Diaspora against the mere suggestion that they pay part of their income to the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ)!

Well, if people want to vote in the Diaspora do they expect the few taxes levied against street vendors and on airtime and other micro-economic enterprise to be used to facilitate their vote in Birmingham, Gauteng or Dallas? Someone has to pay.

How would you justify taking millions away from key services and allocating to the people that live in far off places to determine your destiny?

From the cost of campaigning to the holding of elections itself. Would you still expect an economically challenged and an overstretched budget to track down, register, conduct voter education and campaigns and still hold an election with due integrity?

This is because managing a vote in all these places is quite expensive even if it based at the embassies.

On the other side of this argument is that with modern technology electronic voting should be able to alleviate these challenges.

Even this does not come cheap. How about the security of the vote itself?

We have always suffered from the sore loser syndrome in African politics and particularly in Zimbabwe. Opposition parties never hardly ever concede an election loss no matter how flawlessly it is conducted.

Will this not add another complex dimension to the tired manipulation accusation?

If one considers the figure of 3-4 million Zimbabweans in the Diaspora being thrown around, it means the value of the Diasporan vote is not only of a swing value but if the turnout is good it will be more than three provinces worthy.

This makes it very substantial and as a result very contentious.

This leads straight to the question of whether everyone over 18 in the Diaspora would be allowed to vote.

The United States allows everyone.

Britain allows only those that have been out of the country for not more than 15 years only.

Most countries the average is six years. Should we use the British system, most of the people in the Diaspora would be excluded from voting in 2018 anyway.

The United States is unlimited because of the issue of taxation.

In the same vein we have to ask ourselves who we should allow to vote in our national election.

The person that left Zimbabwe 40 years ago, his children and grandchildren or just him within 20 years of emigrating?

To make it limitless would provoke the question of, how much attached and in touch are they still.

How much engaged with the issues at home are they to be allowed to determine leaders of a country they have little to with now?

In most cases they already vote where they reside and pay taxes, why would they be allowed to vote and determine leadership in two countries (unless of course they pay taxes in both)?

How informed is someone resident elsewhere on issues on the ground?

The proliferation of the internet and social media makes it a bit easier to be more or less au fair with the situation on the ground, but it is still different from the one that experiences it.

If the people in Zimbabwe cannot boast that they are very much in touch with the situation on the ground in Britain, then the reverse also holds true.

Can a person based in Zimbabwe vote on matters in Britain saying they know all about it through social media and reading papers and the worldwide web?

The answer would probably be that parties would come and campaign.

Then the question of certain candidates having restrictions of visiting other countries is another issue to deal with. The playing field would not be fair as long as other key candidates are under sanctions.

So a key step is for everyone to campaign for the removal of sanctions against President Mugabe and his family.

Currently, Zimbabwe has a very simple attitude to the vote from their Diaspora.

If you register to vote in Zimbabwe, by all means be available on election day to vote.

This seems simple enough.

But the Diasporans do not want that.

They want to vote from their countries of residence.

Over 120 countries allow some sort of voting in the Diaspora and 21 of those countries are African.

The next question is over the threshold. How many Zimbabweans should be in a certain country to consider having a vote there?

Mozambique says 1 000.

Maybe that’s actually not a bad thing. If we ask those who would vote in a Zimbabwean election to go and register at their embassies as South Africa did in 2014, wouldn’t that be a good starting point in computing that elusive figure of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.

That figure is way too important for any meaningful policy formulation to be left unknown.

How about allocating some parliamentary seats to the Diaspora?

This is not a new phenomenon.

Some countries have already pioneered this.

France has 12 out of 331 reserved for the Diaspora.

Croatia allocates six out 152 seats to its Diaspora. Algeria has a parliament of 389 and eight of the seats are reserved for the Diaspora.

Angola allocates three out 220 seats to the Diaspora. Our own neighbour, Mozambique, allocates two out of 250 seats to its Diaspora. This thrust is predicated upon the premise that these representatives will be dealing with matters that not only affect the Diaspora, but will bring an international perspective to the debate in the House which will also enrich it.

At the heart of all these structural arrangements is an effort not to disenfranchise any citizen.

In seeking a formula that works, every practical solution should be explored.

There is a global trend towards having a Diaspora vote as a universal standard.

The fact that over 120 countries allow overseas voting does not necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is out of step with others. The Government position is mainly based on economics rather than politics. Economic contributions to the fiscus would come with the political outlet.

This is not putting a price tag on democracy.

It is just being pragmatic to the reality of our circumstances. Goodness of an act must be measured by consequences on society.

We do not even know how many Zimbabweans are out there and where they are.

How can even talk of giving them the vote? We are even fighting over the voters’ roll in Zimbabwe.

How much more will fight over the Diasporan voters’ roll? In any case, who will be eligible to vote in these elections? The fact that there are more questions than answers in this piece is probably a hint that there will be more peevish and querulous bickering emanating from adding a Diaspora element to the conundrum of Zimbabwean elections.

In all the arguments for and against Diaspora voting out there, the major ones are not against the principle itself but are impinged on the practical feasibility.

Source : The Herald