Home » Business » Zimbabwe: Pressure Mounts On Diaspora Vote

Government is facing mounting pressure from civic society organisations to give the millions of Zimbabweans living in foreign lands their right to vote during the 2018 general elections.

With the majority of countries across the world affording their nationals abroad a chance to participate in elections, Zimbabwe does not allow its citizens in the Diaspora to cast their ballots from wherever they are, except in the case of civil servants serving in diplomatic missions.

But thanks to the new Constitution, promulgated in 2013, Diasporans can now exercise their right to vote subject to the alignment of the Electoral Act to the supreme law.

The ZANU-PF government is, however, digging its heels in over the alignment of laws that could weaken its continued hold on power.

Not many people therefore see President Robert Mugabe's administration giving in to pressure to allow the more than four million Zimbabweans in foreign lands the right to vote in the 2018 plebiscite.

The majority of these people were forced to emigrate by the country's untenable economic situation that largely emanated from government's ineptitude in managing the country's economy.

By leaving the country as economic refugees, they involuntarily disenfranchised themselves from voting.

But when in October 2014 Mozambicans living in Zimbabwe cast their ballots to elect that country's present leadership led by Filipe Nyusi, the development rekindled hope among Zimbabweans living abroad.

The Diasporans have since then been agitating for inclusion in the electoral processes.

Last year, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said it would require in excess of US$281 million to prepare for the 2018 elections if the Diaspora vote was to be included.

But since then nothing has materialised to suggest that the country was indeed serious about letting the Diasporans vote.

For instance, there has never been talk on how far the country's contentious electoral laws would be aligned to the new Constitution.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) believes that a Diaspora vote agenda should be set into motion, though various options such as litigation, whereby those disadvantaged by the existing policies petition the country's courts seeking an order compelling government to allow them to vote.

"Those in the Diaspora can form a Global Zimbabwe Forum which can act as an authoritative international voice and platform for all the representative organisations and networks of the Zimbabwean Diaspora community," says ZESN.

Some political analysts, however, doubt whether the Diasporans would ever be allowed to vote in 2018, or at least as long as ZANU-PF is in power.

Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, gave the Diasporans a zero chance of participating in the next plebiscite.

"Their chances (of voting in 2018) are next to zero. Not that they do not qualify, but because the policies in place do not favour their inclusion. ZANU-PF is not sympathetic to the Diasporans voting. While setting up the infrastructure for them to vote would be expensive, the valid reason (for being denied the vote) is that ZANU-PF is not confident that the Diaspora is their pool of voters. They believe the Disaporans are inclined towards the regime change agenda. It would be committing electoral suicide for ZANU-PF," said Masunungure.

Silence Chihuri, the interim president of the recently formed United Democratic Front (UDF) party, which is among those pushing for a Diaspora vote, said it was high time Zimbabweans in the Diaspora demanded their right to vote.

"Perhaps the greatest injustice of all time on Zimbabweans in the Diaspora has been their denial of the right to vote in all elections in Zimbabwe. Yet Zimbabwe has the largest percentage of citizens based outside the country in relation to net national population in the entire sub-Saharan African region. Our total population is around 15 million and the number of Zimbabweans currently domiciled (out of the country) is around four million. The UDF seeks the immediate end to the perpetuation of this unjustified discrimination of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora," said Chihuri.

"The UDF also unequivocally calls for the non-discriminatory involvement of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, not just in bankrolling the national economy, but in their meaningful participation in national politics and all national economic empowerment programmes. Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have been sustaining the Zimbabwean economy and yet prior to the launch of the UDF, no political party in existence in Zimbabwe has ever placed such emphasis on the massive pool of talent and exceptional human resource in the Diaspora," said Chihuri, who added that his party was in process of approaching "government (and the courts if necessary), to ensure that the provisions of the new Constitution that give a vote to all Zimbabwean, including those in the Diaspora, was re-aligned with Zimbabwean law".

Zimbabwe is currently depending on contributions being made by people living in foreign lands, to sustain its economy. Their yearly contributions surpasses foreign direct investment (FDI) thresholds.

Last year alone, Zimbabweans abroad sent home US$966 million through normal channels compared to US$566 that trickled in as FDI.

Estimates, however, suggest that Diaspora remittances exceed a billion dollars each year since a significant portion of money enters the country through unofficial channels.

Cabinet has since approved the National Diaspora Policy that seeks to harness more revenue from its citizens who are abroad.

Chihuri said, UDF would, unlike the Movement for Democratic Change, not boycott elections, but instead seek to delay any polls that exclude citizens in the Diaspora.

Election Resource Centre executive director, Tawanda Chimhini, was optimistic this week that Diasporans would vote in 2018 because there was currently no legal basis for denying them the vote as the Constitution now provides every Zimbabwean citizen, regardless of where they are, the right to vote.

"Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have a real chance to vote in 2018. While ZEC must play its part in fulfilling their constitutional mandate and afford citizens their right to vote, the citizens themselves must also be prepared to fight for the right to vote through litigation in the event that inadequate provisions are made to ensure that they register to vote. ZEC must come up with clear regulations and procedures for voter registration that are not discriminatory to some Zimbabwean citizens entitled to the right to vote. In the absence of these, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora can approach the court to have their rights protected," said Chimhini.

"It would be fair to note that Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have not been able to exercise their right to vote owing to the absence of provisions, legislative or otherwise, which would enable them to vote such as access to voter registration. The fact that other Zimbabweans, those that are in the Diaspora, but engaged in government business have, in fact, been afforded the right to vote in the past is clear indication that such a vote is administratively possible and previous selective provision of this right is now potentially unconstitutional as it discriminates against some citizens," he added.

He charged that it was the responsibility of the State to make sure that every eligible voter votes.

Source: Financial Gazette.

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