The Portfolio Committee on Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs consulted the public on the Electoral Amendment Bill (S.B. 7 - 2013) as obligated by Section 141 of the Constitution. The public hearings were conducted in Rushinga, Inyathi, Plumtree, Bulawayo, Nyika Growth Point and Mutasa District, on 2 – 7 May 2014, thanks to support from SAPST.
While in the past Parliament of Zimbabwe had embraced the concept of public hearings as part of its internal reforms, public consultation on all draft legislation before Parliament has been constitutionalized thereby taking away discretion from Parliament whether or not to consult the public as doing otherwise will be a breach of the Constitution. Actually, the Executive had intended to fast-track the Bill in the House of Assembly before the adjournment of Parliament on 10 April 2014. However, following a petition by civic society to the Speaker of Parliament pointing out provisions of Section 141 of the Constitution, the Executive capitulated and allowed the public consultation process to take place as envisaged in the Constitution.
Participants in all the above-mentioned areas visited by the Committee said the Bill should provide for the following key issues:
• Full independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)
• Voter registration exercise should be the responsibility of ZEC not the Registrar General.
• Voter registration should be simplified to allow youths to register as the current requirement of proof of residence was too stringent
• Voters roll should be made available to the public and contesting parties well in advance of the elections, preferably in electronic format for ease of reference
• Given ZEC’s limited capacity and resources, voter education should be opened up to civic society organizations to complement ZEC
• Fair media coverage of all contesting parties and candidates by State media
• Provision for assisted voters should be restricted to those who genuinely required it. Those who feign illiteracy should be arrested.
• The Bill should bar traditional leaders from ‘marshalling’ their subjects to polling stations and instructing them to vote for particular party candidates.
• Candidates involved in political intimidation and violence should be disqualified from participating in the election
There were divergent views on issues regarding Diaspora vote and the Special vote. Some participants said the Bill should provide for mechanisms for people in the Diaspora to vote as this was their right guaranteed by the Constitution. However, others felt that only those citizens resident in Zimbabwe should be allowed to vote except those who had gone out of the country on official government business. Regarding the Special Vote for the uniformed forces, some participants argued that this should be scrapped off as it was prone to manipulation. On the other hand some participants argued that since most of the members of the uniformed forces would be on official duty, they should be allowed to vote in advance before their deployment for electoral duties.
The Committee will compile its report based on the views gathered from the public. The report will be tabled in the National Assembly at the Second Reading Stage of the Bill.