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A NEW voting system unveiled last week by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) faces legal hurdles amid indications that the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) will soon approach the courts to contest its constitutionality.

At an all-stakeholders meeting last week, ZEC chairperson, Rita Makarau, announced that the electoral body would move from a ward-based voter registration system to a new polling station-based system as a means to curtail double voting as well as prevent ineligible people from voting.

The new polling station-based registration effectively means voters will only cast their ballot at a polling station where their names appear whereas the current system permits voters to vote at any polling station in their ward. Although Zimbabweans in the Diaspora would also be allowed to vote, they would only be able to do so at the polling stations they register at.

Constitutional law expert and NCA leader, Lovemore Madhuku, this week dismissed the new voting system as nonsensical. He said the NCA, which transformed into a political party last year, will challenge the electoral reforms at the Constitutional Court as they take away the right of the people to vote on polling day as stipulated by the Electoral Act.

“As NCA, we are very much opposed to this nonsense by ZEC. We were in the first place not invited to this conference which itself is conspicuous given how they are aware of our position,” said Madhuku.

“Why should people be forced to vote at a particular polling station in a democracy? There are a million reasons why one cannot be at a particular polling station on a voting day.” Various other political parties have also shot down the new voting system saying it would result in massive disenfranchisement of the Zimbabwean citizens. They condemned the new system saying if anything, reforms should make voting less central to allow for as many citizens to be able to vote. MDC-T spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora, said the issue of polling station-based registration was a half hearted reform, which was open to abuse.

“This system must be totally abandoned as it can make people susceptible to intimidation and subjected to violence. It does not add any value to the democratisation of our voting system,” he said.

“Too much localisation of the voting system means people will easily be intimidated into believing that they are being monitored hence they will not be able to exercise their democratic right to a free and fair vote,” he added. Mwonzora also criticised the Diaspora voting system which he said does not allow for Zimbabweans outside the country to vote at polling stations set up in their host countries.

“Our Constitution says every Zimbabwean must be able to vote, not every Zimbabwean in Zimbabwe. What ZEC is doing is tantamount to giving with one hand and taking with another. How can you say you want those in the Diaspora to vote and at the same time you introduce a voting system which is polling station based without setting up the polling stations in those countries which host Zimbabwean citizens?” queried Mwonzora.

ZAPU, led by Dumiso Dabengwa, held a national executive meeting last Saturday to discuss the reforms and resolved to contest them. ZAPU vice president, Emilia Mukaratirwa, said her party’s national executive gly condemned the new voting system. “The executive resolved not to accept the new system by ZEC. We gly believe that this is open to manipulation and increases chances of rigging and intimidation as a result people would not be able to vote freely,” she said.

Zimbabwe Development Party president, Kisinoti Mukwazhe, also threw in his weight saying his party would not accept the reforms as they subjected the people to victimisation. Nhlanhla Dube, spokesman of the Welshman Ncube-led MDC, said although the new voting system is effective in curbing double voting, it does not work as a standalone mechanism.

“There should be other complementary instruments that can make it possible for people who cannot be at their particular polling station to vote from wherever they are. Unfortunately ZEC did not factor that in and so as a party we shall be lobbying for such measures to be put in place,” he said.

ZANU-PF spokesman, Rugare Gumbo, said his party was yet to come up with an official position with regards to the reforms. “We want to thoroughly look into the reforms and study all the implications thereafter we will announce our position,” he said.

Source : Financial Gazette