ZESN report on mobile voter registration
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) observed the mobile voter registration that ended on 17 August 2007.
The exercise began on the 18 June 2007. ZESN deployed an observer in each of the country’s 62 administrative districts that were being used for the registration of voters.
Having observed the entire mobile voter registration exercise, ZESN believes that the process was not exhaustive and it therefore should be extended in order to cater for those people who were unable to register as voters.
This report is based on actual observations made by ZESN deployed observers. It is also based on the feedback ZESN got at the community workshops it held throughout the country. ZESN observed the registration process in every district in the country. It did not however cover all the registration centres. ZESN believes that the observations in this report are truthful reflection of what happened at all the other centres throughout the country.
In spite of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) claims that it deployed over 2000 voter educators to conscientise the people of the exercise ZESN still believes that the exercise was inadequately publicised. The first indication that there was going to be a mobile voter registration exercise was the advertisement in The Herald and The Chronicle on the 16th of June 2007. The exercise began two days later. No other public pronouncements of these centres were ever made making it difficult for those who failed to get hold of the two newspapers to know where to find the mobile teams and on what dates.
There was no overt, prior awareness raising exercise. The ZEC also placed intermittent media adverts encouraging people to go and register as voters but only after the exercise had started. ZESN believes that newspapers are not the most appropriate media for communicating with the rural folk who often do not have alternative sources of information.
Newspapers are either too expensive for the rural folk or they never reach their areas. In some of the cases, it was observed that the mobile teams were not at the centres as had been advertised in the newspapers.
For example it was advertised that one mobile team was to be stationed at Rusvingo Primary School in Highfield, Harare from the 1st of July 2007 to the 8th of August 2007. The team only arrived on the 1st of August 2007. Another team scheduled to have arrived at Sengwe Primary School in Hurungwe District on the 2nd of August 2007 only arrived on the 3rd of August 2007. There was no official explanation from ZEC or the Registrar of Voters.
Some of the ZEC voter educators only informed people about the exercise when it was already underway. In most cases the people were not advised for how long the teams would be in their respective areas. In Warren Park 1 ZEC officials informed people about the exercise two days after it had started.
Most rural folk disclosed that they were only aware that the exercise was meant for those who intended to get identity cards for the first time, or replace lost or defaced identity cards. They also expected to get birth certificates for the first time. This therefore meant that most people who already have identity cards but are not registered as voters did not do so as they thought the registration of voters would be done at a later date.
Until the exercise closed down ZESN was still receiving enquiries from members of the public who were still asking about details of the registration centres. Most members of the public remained unaware that the voter registration exercise was going on. People were however aware that national identity cards were being issued. This probably explains why most of the people who managed to get Identity cards for the first time did not proceed to register as voters. There was also confusion as some people who are already registered were unsure whether they were supposed to re-register or not.
Although ZESN observed that there was a huge turnout at most of the registration centres, it turned out that most of the people were more interested in getting identity cards and birth certificates than in registering as voters. The absence of aspiring voters at these centres could be directly linked to the poor publicity of the exercise.
Mobile voter registration process
One of the biggest obstacles of this exercise was that most people who were getting identity documents for the first time were unable to get the identity documents on the same day. They were therefore unable to register on the same day. Most of these people followed the teams to the next centre and were only content to get their identity cards documents. They did not bother to register as voters. There was also no consistency in the registration centres’ operations as they closed at different time. On 17 August 2007 the registration centres closed at between 1330hrs and 1930hrs.
There were also allegations of non-Harare residents being registered in Harare North and Harare East constituencies. These people were being registered on the strength of letters that indicated that they had been offered residential stands. ZESN observers reported seeing people being bussed to centres such as Zimphos Primary School and Hatcliffe Township Community Centre. ZESN observers also observed that a busload of aspiring voters was also at Mt Pleasant District offices on 17 August 2007. This was not a mobile centre but one of the static district offices that ran concurrently with the mobile registration.
Coverage of mobile teams
ZESN is particularly concerned that the mobile registration of voters was not extended to towns such as Gweru, Masvingo and Kwekwe. Meanwhile, Harare and Bulawayo were only allocated three mobile teams each in spite of them being densely populated areas. These three teams were obviously overwhelmed as was evidenced by the high numbers of prospective voters at these registration centres. Chitungwiza and Mutare were only allocated one mobile team each. It is interesting to note that in previous elections the opposition has done very well in these areas.
It is inconceivable that Mutare, which is the country’s third biggest city, could have all its aspiring voters registered in only three days by one mobile registration team. Meanwhile rural areas such as Mazowe district, Mt Darwin district and Guruve district were all allocated four mobile registration teams each. All these districts are in Mashonaland Central, a traditional ruling party stronghold.
Meanwhile the teams were often deployed for a short time in most areas. For example one team was only deployed for only a day at Kawondera Primary School in Zvimba district and Shingirai Primary School in Chikomba District. The teams were usually unable to attend to all the people who turned up at these centres resulting in most of them having to follow these teams to the next registration centres thus defeating the very purpose of having a mobile voter registration exercise.
In Harare, for example,
the team that covered Marlborough was the same one that also catered
for Hatcliffe and a voter would need to catch at least two lifts to
catch up with the team. ZESN believes that these centres could have
been more effective if they had been allocated adequate resources and
spent a longer period at most of these centres. Rusvingo Primary School,
that catered for aspiring voters in Highfield was not centrally located
resulting in prospective voters having to fork out money for transport
in order to register as voters. This problem was worsened by the fact
that some static centres such as those in Bulawayo refused to register
voters referring them to the mobile teams. In Harare, the static centres
however attended to all aspiring voters.
Inadequate strategic materials such as photographic film and registration forms hampered the mobile voter registration. The shortage of films was widespread and ZESN received reports of this shortage from Masvingo, Midlands, Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland Central. At Copley Farm School, Chireka Primary School in Mashonaland Central and at Chikarudzo Primary School in Masvingo province there were no light bulbs resulting in the teams having to rely on the sunlight in order to have adequate lighting for the national identity cards’ photographs.
At Copley Farm School this inadequacy adversely affected registration as it was overcast for most of time that the team was at the centre. The shortage of registration of forms also meant that many youths could not get the opportunity to register. Chikarudzo Primary School was forced to close at 1430hrs on 17 August 2007 as it had run short of films and registration forms.
Most of the registration officials were very professional and co-operated with ZESN observers. ZESN was however unable to obtain statistics of the number of people who had registered as voters as most of the registration officials refused to disclose this information. In Masvingo province there were allegations that members of the military had been recruited to carry out the registration exercise. ZESN was however unable to confirm the authenticity of these claims.
ZESN observers, however, reported that serving members of the police office (name supplied), prison service and the CIO were responsible for the registration of voters at Gumbeze Primary School in Mt Darwin. ZESN also observers reported that local war veterans were among some of the registration officials at Kapotesa Primary School in Mudzi District of Mashonaland East.
Although some of the registration officials were teachers, the calibre of the registration officials in some cases left a lot to be desired. In Marondera there were reports that groundsmen at one school had been roped in as registration officials. It was no surprise therefore that at least 75 people were turned away from Eagle Tanning School on 17 August 2007.
Most of these people could not get Identity cards as they did not have health cards or proof of birth that were necessary for them to get birth certificates. One needs a birth certificate in order to get a national identity card. The registration officials steadfastly refused to accept evidence from witnesses despite earlier assurances by the Registrar General that such verbal testimonies were sufficient for one to get birth certificates.
There were also reports that some registration officials demanded bribes from prospective voters before they could issue them with identity cards. Reports from Kapotesa School in Mashonaland East showed that registration officials demanded chickens or goats from the poor villagers before allowing them to jump queues in order for them to get national identity cards. Similar reports were also received from Gokwe in the Midlands province and Hurungwe District in Mashonaland West.
Most traditional leaders actively supported the exercise as they readily wrote proof of residence letters for those who wished to register as voters. These traditional leaders also urged the people to register as voters. ZESN however received reports of two traditional leaders who ‘disappeared’ in Gwanda during the period that the registration teams were in their areas thus disadvantaging people who required the proof of residence letters.
ZESN observers reported that Chief Mugabe of Masvingo province demanded payment of $20 000-00 from each of the people who required proof of residence letters. The aggrieved persons reported to the registration officials but the Chief remained adamant that he deserved to be paid for his services.
Political parties in Zimbabwe did not make public pronouncements encouraging their supporters to go and register as voters. ZESN however received reports that the MDC pro-senate was organising its supporters in Lupane to register. ZANU PF also mobilised its supporters through some war veterans in some parts of Nyanga and Masvingo to register as voters. The MDC anti-senate was also reported to be mobilising their supporters to register in their numbers in Bindura, Guruve South and Goromonzi. The faction’s leader Morgan Tsvangirai held a rally in Kuwadzana, Harare encouraging his party’s supporters to register as voters.
Impact of mobile registration
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced that at least 80 000 voters had been registered in this exercise. While ZESN welcomes this development, it still believes that the exercise did not adequately cater for all aspiring voters considering that the huge number of people displaced during the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina. This operation has made it more necessary for a comprehensive voter registration exercise to be carried out.
In order to adequately assess to what extent the exercise was effective it was perhaps necessary for the ZEC to have disclosed the projected number of people it expected to register. It is possible for the ZEC to make these projections basing on the results of the 2002 census. ZESN however believes that the exercise has not been able to cater for all the people who wanted to register as voters. There were at least 150 people at Chikarudzo Primary School in Masvingo district who were still to be served when the exercise closed on 17 August 2007.
Considering that statistics obtained from the mobile registration process will assist in the delimitation of constituencies, it was imperative that the exercise be thorough and exhaustive. A non-exhaustive exercise will result in a miscued delimitation exercise thereby resulting in accusations of gerrymandering.
ZESN inserted 56
print media adverts in the independent and public and community newspapers.
95 radio adverts were aired on all the four radio stations in the country
in order to cater for the diverse audiences. ZESN further held 52 community
workshops at grassroots level throughout the country raising community
awareness on the registration process. ZESN also encouraged people to
register as voters in order to enable them to be able to vote in 2008.
ZESN believes that the mobile voter registration exercise did not sufficiently cater for all deserving people who intended to register as voters. It therefore proposes that:
• The mobile registration period be extended in order to ensure that all aspiring voters are registered.
• Adequate resources be set aside for this exercise so that it does not become a cosmetic electoral process
• ZEC should consider carrying out a comprehensive door to door voter registration exercise similar to the one carried out in 2000
• Registration officials should be professional and should not view this exercise as an opportunity to enrich themselves and an avenue to exploit poor villagers
• Traditional leaders should constructively assist their people in registering as voters without unnecessarily burdening them by making irrational demands
• Political parties should play a more active role in urging their supporters to register as voters
The Registrar General of Voters should give a projection of the targeted
number of people to be registered as voters.
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