By Reason Razao
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HARARE: The recently gazetted Electoral Amendment Bill has come under intense scrutiny and criticism amid claims by legal and electoral watchdogs that the draft law contains numerous irregularities.
Also, some constitutional amendments that gave rise to the Bill ware currently facing challenge in the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), it has been argued.
Among a litany of changes, the Bill seeks removal of driver’s licences as proof of identity, and disqualification of previously convicted persons from contesting in national elections.
Candidates, according to the envisaged legislation, will not be allowed to withdraw from contesting in National Assembly or local authority elections less than 21 days before polling.
Furthermore, the Bill also provides for incorporation of the youth quota in Parliament and the women’s quota in rural and urban councils, which are both products of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Act, 2019.
According to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and parliamentary watchdog Veritas, the draft law addresses nominal and administrative reforms whilst ignoring pertinent reforms that may have a direct bearing on the transparency and credibility of elections in Zimbabwe.
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“The Bill is not a good one. It fails in its purpose of aligning the Electoral Act with the amended Constitution, even assuming that the constitutional amendments are valid, and some of its provisions actually violate the Constitution,” Veritas said in a statement.
“The Bill will provide for the election of the 10 women members but, once again, it does not require party lists to specify which of the persons being nominated are disabled so it will be impossible for nomination courts to ascertain if the lists comply with the Constitution.”
Commenting on the disqualification of persons convicted of a certain offence, Veritas said the Bill does not say that candidates will be precluded if they disclose such a sentence, but it clearly implies that they will be.
“The problem here is that the qualifications and disqualifications for election to Parliament are laid down in the Constitution, and it is not possible for an Act of Parliament to add further disqualifications.”
In terms of the selection of youth members of the National Assembly under the new section 45E (1)(c), which clause 6 of the Bill will insert in the Act, parties will apparently have to present their complete party lists of young people to the nomination courts in every province, even though only one of them would be elected.
“It means apparently that the nomination courts in every province will have to evaluate the candidacy of all the youths on the lists.
“It is not clear what will happen if the nomination of one or more youths is rejected by a nomination court in one province but accepted by a nomination court in another province,” said Veritas.
ZESN said the Bill was not congruent and was silent on matters of credible, peaceful, free and fair elections as enshrined in the Constitution.
“ZESN is irked by the fact that the Electoral Amendment Bill is silent and does not address some of the key principles of electoral systems and processes on the conduct and management of credible, peaceful, free and fair elections as enshrined under Section 155 of the Constitution,” said ZESN.
According to ZESN the Bill has lowered Constitutional standards.
“The Bill creates a ceiling of 30 percent of women councillors as part of the quota system for women’s representation.
“This does not represent the fullness of the Constitutional Amendment (No. 2) provision, which seeks to create a minimum threshold for women in local government at 30 percent on a ward basis through a Proportional Representation,” ZESN said.
This according to the bill will result in the decrease of the women’s quota percentage when a political party fails to present a full list of
candidates for the local authority women’s quota.
“The provision makes women losers for their political parties’ negligence, maladministration or incompetence.”
The support network called on government to consider the quota system design that ensures the minimum 30 percent seats were within the existing ward boundaries through a portion of Proportional Representation and, therefore ensuring equality in how representatives of the country take up public office in direct election seats as guided by the Constitution Amendment (No. 2).