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Cablegate: Electoral Act Amendment to Degrade Electoral

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

290546Z Apr 04





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) The electoral environment in Zimbabwe continues to
deteriorate. The reintroduced Electoral Amendment Bill would
make the electoral environment more restrictive and less
transparent in the run up to the March 2005 parliamentary
elections and move Zimbabwe further away from the norms and
standards set by the Southern Africa Development Community
Parliamentary Forum. End Summary.

Electoral Amendment Bill Marshals On

2. (U) The recently gazetted Electoral Amendment Bill would
make the electoral environment more restrictive and less
transparent ahead of the March 2005 Parliamentary elections.
The latest incarnation of the Electoral Amendment Bill--the
last received an adverse report from the Parliamentary Legal
Committee (PLC), the committee responsible for ensuring the
constitutionality of legislation, and an unfavorable report
from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal,
and Parliamentary Affairs in March 2003--retains many of the
changes stakeholders, the PLC, and the portfolio committee
found objectionable, such as stricter regulations governing
voter education, voters roll inspection and compilation,
postal voting and campaigning. Noticeably absent from the
most recent draft are provisions governing the selection and
accreditation of monitors and observers. (Reftel) (Note: The
new bill refers to clauses that do not exist in the Electoral
Act as it stands today. It is clear that the bill drafter
was referring to the pre-February 27, 2002 version of the
Act, before the Supreme Court declared the January 2002
General Laws Amendment Act, the act which amended the
Electoral Act, null and void. It is unclear whether the GOZ
reconsidered inclusion of the points on observers and
monitors or if these clauses were omitted because the bill
drafter erroneously believed these clauses to be in the Act
already. End Note)

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3. (U) Some of the more egregious proposed Electoral Act
changes include:

-Removing the clauses that allow a person to make photocopies
of voters, rolls and allow the constituency registrar to
have the voters roll printed and make available to the public
for a fee. This is a new clause that was not present in the
previous version of the Bill.

-Enhancing ESC control over voter education. Others may be
able to provide voters, education provided they satisfy
seven conditions, among which is not receiving foreign funds
to assist in the education process. (Note: All significant
NGOs involved in voter education rely on foreign-sourced
funding. End note.) Political parties may still provide their
own voter education programs. The amendment makes violation
of the law a criminal offense subject to a fine and/or
imprisonment of up to six months. Previously, there were no
restrictions on civic organizations conducting voter
education or the source of funding.

-Restricting postal voting to members (and their spouses) of
the disciplined forces, diplomatic service or a constituency
registrar, presiding officer, polling officer, or counting
officer away on duty on election day. In the past, persons
unable to go to polling stations because of ill health or
infirmity; residing more than 20 kilometers from the nearest
polling stations; and those who had good reason to believe
they would not be in their constituency on polling day were
allowed to vote by mail. Zimbabweans studying or temporarily
working outside the country could also apply to vote by mail.
The new clause also takes all power from the constituency
registrar in matters of postal voting and vests it in the
Registrar General (RG).

-Making it more difficult for people to register to vote by
requiring they submit their applications in person or by
registered mail to the constituency registrar or such other
person the Registrar General may, by notice in the Government
Gazette, designate. Since the Gazette is neither timely
distributed nor readily available, the RG could, in theory,
keep changing the person to whom people must register.

-Making it easier for the RG to alter the voters roll without
notifying the affected party.

-Making it a criminal offense to place a campaign posting on
any house, building, wall, fence, lamppost, gate, or elevator
without the consent of the owner. The penalty is a fine
and/or imprisonment for up to five years.

-Restricting who can be nominated for office and complicating
the nomination process. Prior to the proposed changes, a
person wishing to run for councilor would need not to have
been convicted of an offense involving dishonesty in
connection with any funds or other property of the council
concerned or any other local authority. The proposed
amendment states that a person need only be convicted of an
offense involving dishonesty to be disqualified from running
for office. In addition to this qualification, written
certificates of clearance from the Zimbabwe Republic Police
stating the person has not been convicted of an offense
involving dishonesty or contravened sections of the Rural
District Councils or Urban Councils Acts and from the
relevant council stating that the candidate does not owe any
money to the council must accompany the nomination papers.

MDC Five Priorities

4. In a message delivered by MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai
on April 27, the MDC laid out five demands (distilled from
the party,s earlier list of 15) in connection with the March
2005 elections:

--Restore the rule of law, including disbandment of youth
militia and suppression of politically motivated violence;
--Restore basic freedoms and rights, including repeal of the
Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information
and Protection of Privacy Act;
--Establish an independent electoral commission;
--Restore public confidence in the electoral process,
including through more transparent administration of voters'
rolls; and
--Restore the secrecy of the ballot.


5. (SBU) If passed, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill would
make the electoral environment ahead of the March 2005
Parliamentary elections more restrictive and move Zimbabwe
further away from the norms and standards set by the Southern
Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum. The
patently arbitrary discretion with which the RG would be
allowed to alter the voters roll leaves the process open to
gross partisan abuse. Prohibiting people from photocopying
or otherwise obtaining a copy of the voters roll makes a
mockery of the inspection of the rolls, further enhancing
likely manipulation of the rolls. Without certified copies
of the rolls, it will be virtually impossible to demonstrate
in court the manipulation of rolls over time.

6. (SBU) The amendment would disenfranchise thousands of
Zimbabweans who could not make it to their polling stations.
Those afforded postal rights--diplomats, soldiers, and police
officers temporarily on duty outside the country--as a group
seem more inclined to be pro-ruling party than those denied
such rights.

7. (SBU) The requirement for candidate documentation of no
criminal record further enhances GOZ control of the process.
If passed, it is hard to imagine the same police who
regularly arrest MDC victims of violence won,t thwart MDC
candidacies simply by holding up required documentation.
Restricting campaign posters effectively limits one of the
opposition's last remaining methods of public communication.
Given the propensity for selective application of the law by
the GOZ, ZANU-PF candidates will no doubt be allowed to put
up posters, while MDC and other opposition posters will be
met with the full might of the law.

8. (SBU) ZANU-PF has made an art out of manipulating the
legislature to legitimize its monopoly over all means to
political power so that its actions are technically within
the law and it can control the electoral process. The
Zimbabwe Constitution grants far-reaching powers to the
President and allows him to effect law with minimal
Parliamentary interference. Even without the new Electoral
Act amendments, the Constitution grants the president the
right to appoint members of the Electoral Supervisory
Committee, judges, police, and defense forces, which
essentially makes the president in charge of the electoral
process. The ruling party has given no indication that it
has any intention of accepting any of the changes to the
electoral environment urged by the opposition and many in the
international community. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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