JUSTICE Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Wednesday Zimbabweans living outside the country can forget about taking part in new elections expected next year as he steered the Electoral Act Amendment Bill through Parliament.
More than a million Zimbabweans are estimated to have left the country in the last decade alone, many of them escaping a deepening economic and political crisis. Most settled in neighbouring Botswana and South Africa while others moved to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The two MDC factions have been pressing for exiled Zimbabweans' participation in crucial elections, but Chinamasa ruled out the prospect citing various logistical challenges and the fact that senior officials in his Zanu PF party cannot campaign in Western countries because of travel and other sanctions.
He claimed that the sanctions made the Dispora vote “a hostage population, only free and accessible only to one (political party)”.
“With respect to people living in the diaspora, let me say this right from the outset, there are other 101 reasons why we are not ready for diaspora voting and I will just enumerate the few. The capacity to have polling stations in every country where Zimbabweans are is just beyond the capacity of this country,” Chinamasa said.
He added: “The other consideration and it is very important, given where we are geo-politically, where we are, we have sanctions imposed against one of the three political parties in the inclusive government.”
European Union countries and the United States have maintained sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe and senior Zanu PF officials some ten years ago over allegations of human rights abuses and electoral fraud.
“Those individuals are senior people in a political party and one of the fundamental elements of democracy is that the voters must be accessible to all those candidates who want to seek office. They must be accessible to all not only to a few. It must not be a hostage population, only free and accessible only to one of us,” Chinamasa said.
Meanwhile, the amendment bill requires that results of Presidential elections should be published within five days of the vote, a provision aimed at preventing the crisis of 2008 when a month-long delay stoked tensions amid claims officials were massaging the figures in Mugabe’s favour.
A special body would also be established to deal with cases of political violence during elections with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission empowered to summon candidates, or political parties over the issue.
Fresh elections are now expected next year after the regional SADC body which helped negotiate the Global Political Agreement (GPA) urged parties to the deal to speed up implementation of political reforms and call new elections within 12 months.
The parties agree that the coalition government is no longer workable due to disputes over policy but disagree over the timing of new elections for a substantive administration.