Are elections in Zimbabwe for real or a farce: Time for a Biometric Voter Registration System (BVR)

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ONE of the main objectives of the liberation struggle waged from 1966-1979 was to have a one-man-one-vote system which had been denied to the black majority by the oppressive and colonial Rhodesian regime. This was achieved in 1980 on the attainment of independence.
The first democratic elections were held in 1980 and supervised by the British government. These were won by Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe became prime minister. Thereafter, elections were held religiously in 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2018.
In 1987, the only credible opposition party Zapu merged with Zanu to form one party Zanu PF and there was an amendment of the constitution to have an executive president and this position was taken up by Mugabe.
In 1985 a newly independent Zimbabwe held general elections for the first time under local supervision and Robert Mugabe was re-elected with an increased majority.
These elections were held during the Gukurahundi era that had swept Ndebeles in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. The credibility of these elections was therefore questionable, to some extent. Voting in the two provinces was conducted in a very tense environment with state security agents on the ground.
1990 saw Zimbabwe going to elections under an amended constitution that created an elected executive presidency and abolished the senate. Edgar Tekere of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement(ZUM) competed against Mugabe for the executive presidency.
Tekere had just been expelled from Zanu PF for strongly standing against Mugabe’s plan for a one party state and highlighting the evils of nepotism, corruption and inefficiency that had manifested in the Zanu PF regime.
In this election, ZUM supporters were the targets of violent attacks that culminated in the attempted murder of the late former Gweru mayor Patrick Kombayi. His attackers were arrested, tried and convicted by the courts but were mysteriously pardoned by Zanu PF head Robert Mugabe.
The 1996 elections were contested by the incumbent Robert Mugabe, Abel Muzorewa of UANC and Ndabaningi Sithole of Zanu (Ndonga). Muzorewa and Sithole later withdrew from the contest because of prohibitive conditions that had been set by the regime to frustrate the opposition.
Fierce violence was also unleashed against their supporters and it was clear that the election field was not level but favoured the incumbent Zanu PF government. Mugabe got 90% of the vote but voter turnout was only 32% which was a clear testimony of a volatile atmosphere.Advertisement

In 1997 Sithole was convicted on trumped up charges of conspiring to assassinate Mugabe, he appealed and died while out on bail.
In 2002 Mugabe won by 56.2% against Morgan Tsvangirai who got 42% in an environment riddled with violence against all opposition supporters. Urban voters were de-registered and the rural voters roll was badly tempered with, amid reports of intimidation and the presence of state security agents dominated the local media, a strategy by Zanu PF that discredited our elections.
These elections were declared credible by SADC and the AU but they were widely condemned by local voters, opposition political parties, the European Union, independent election observers, civil society, academics and other Western governments.
The 2008 and 2013 elections were a replay of previous polls in which Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe again emerged victorious through rigging as usual. In a nutshell, elections in Zimbabwe are held under conditions that favor the incumbent.
Although the elections have been held on a regular basis, it is crystal clear that the result is always predetermined in favour of the incumbent with the opposition parties being used to legitimize the outcome.
It was therefore logical for the main opposition parties to boycott the recent by-elections held in June, 2015. These elections have all failed to meet the minimum benchmarks outlined in section 155 of The Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Electoral Act.
The Constitution is clear that elections must be peaceful, free and fair. Contesting political parties and candidates should be granted access to both print and electronic media. Fair play is where the ground is level and the referee is non-partisan.
It is absolutely clear that there is no political will on the part of the Zanu PF regime to implement electoral reforms and, accordingly, align the laws to the new constitution.
This makes the outcome of any future elections held under this environment predictably in favour of the incumbent where Zanu PF is the contestant and the referee at the same time. The long term outcome will be an entrenched Zanu PF one party state.
To improve on the credibility and reliability of the voter registration system it is vital that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) introduces the Biometric Voter Registration System (BVR). BVR comprises of a laptop, fingerprint scanner and a camera. BVR captures a voter’s facial image, finger prints and personal data – that is name, national identity card number and contact details.
Data from the BVR machines is transferred to a centralized master storage server from which hard copy registers can be printed. The copy physical registers are then distributed to polling centres for people to check and verify their details. Registration should take place at the place where the prospective voter is expected to cast his/her vote on election day.
This now takes us to a recommendation to introduce a polling station-based voting system instead of the current ward-based system. This will eliminate the possibility of rigging by voting multiple times at various polling stations within the ward.
Some of the advantages of BVR System include elimination of duplicate registration of voters; the capture of voter’s records is fast, efficient and direct, and it provides the polling officer with multiple ways of identifying voters e.g. facial features, fingerprints, names and identity card numbers.
BVR also provides a basis for possible e-voting in future by use of biometric technologies. Cross matching of data from BVR and the Register General’s office can help in the removal of ghost voters from the voters’ role by ensuring that those who have died are removed.
The system can also help in identifying those who have attained the voting age are contacted to register. This technology has already been used successfully in other SADC countries; a recent example is Tanzania which only started the re-registration of voters and registration of most eligible voters in February, 2015 while elections were held in October, 2015.
The Zanu PF government is very much aware of this technology but choses to ignore it since its usage will be detrimental to their current unfair advantage. We therefore demand, amongst other changes, the use of this BVR technology and timeous registration of voters to ensure fair and credible elections in future.
On paper, Zimbabwe has one of the best constitutional and electoral reforms which the Zanu PF government deliberately chooses not to implement and operationalise.
As of now the electoral playing field remains uneven and presents a pre-determined election outcome in favour of the incumbent Zanu PF. It therefore does not make any sense for any party that stands for true and transparent democracy to participate in such elections.
The MDC will continue to put pressure on the Mugabe regime until they give in to our demands for full implementation of electoral reforms.
Inos Nyoni is MDC national director of elections.