Cablegate: Second Electoral Bill Passes Zim Parliament

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

171032Z Dec 04





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On December 16, Parliament passed the
Electoral Bill, the second of the electoral reform bills
(reftel). The bill incorporated amendments proposed by both
parties, (though not all the MDC's proposals) and was not
rejected by the MDC-dominated Parliamentary Legal Committee.
If implemented, the bill would improve certain aspects of
election administration, but it did not address many of the
election environment's key flaws. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The Electoral Bill will replace the existing Electoral
Act and complements the recently passed Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission (ZEC) Bill. On December 17, the government-run
Herald newspaper proclaimed that Zimbabwe, with the passage
of both bills, was now compliant with the SADC election
guidelines and principles. The Electoral Bill clarifies some
of the functions of the Electoral Supervisory Commission
(ESC) and the Registrar-General, both of which are
constitutional bodies; sets out the procedures for
registration of voters; creates an Electoral Court to deal
with registration disputes; and details some aspects of the
conduct of elections. The bill, as did the previous
Electoral Act, requires an individual to be resident in a
constituency in order to register to vote there, and an
individual can be removed from the voter roll if absent from
the constituency for twelve continuous months.

3. (U) The bill received a non-adverse report from the
Parliamentary Legal Committee, which decides on the
constitutionality of proposed bills and is composed of a
majority of MDC MPs. The Justice Committee, the Minister of
Justice, and the MDC proposed several amendments to the bill,
many of which were accepted. The amendments include
guarantees to the right of all parties to access media and to
campaign and the right of citizens to participate in civic
organizations to influence and challenge government policies,
the use of indelible ink on ballots, the extension of voting
hours to 12, and allowance of every voter in line at the
close of polling hours to vote.

4. (U) However, not all MDC amendments were accepted. The
bill as passed allows the ESC to choose its staff from within
civil service and may include members of the uniformed
forces. The MDC proposed an amendment to allow the ESC to
recruit staff from outside of the civil service and objected
to the possible secondment of the uniformed forces to the ESC
staff, as their presence could intimidate voters. The MDC
also proposed an amendment to allow relatives of disabled or
illiterate voters to assist them in voting. Instead, the
bill provides for a monitor (an ESC staff member) and a
police officer for those in need of assistance. An
MDC-proposed amendment for translucent ballot boxes was
rejected, as Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa said it
was an administrative, not legislative, matter and that he
had already announced his decision to use translucent ballot
boxes. Finally, the MDC proposed an amendment requiring the
Registrar-General to provide electronic copies of the voter
roll to all parties, which was rejected by Chinamasa on the
basis that electronic rolls were subject to tampering.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: The Government,s claim that the Electoral
Bill and the ZEC Bill make it compliant with the SADC
election principles is at best overstated. The adoption of
some of the MDC,s amendments to the Electoral bill is
encouraging, and some of the Government's procedural
concessions were constructive and meaningful, if not decisive
moves toward free and fair elections. However, voter rolls
historically have been central to MDC complaints of elections
shortcomings, and the failure to liberalize access to
electronic rolls is a potentially damaging and ominous
disappointment. Another major disappointment is the failure
to provide for absentee voting for millions of Zimbabwean
citizens resident abroad. In addition, provisions on media
access and freedom to campaign offer the opposition legal
tools for the campaign season, but it remains to be seen
whether this self-serving expression of political will by the
ruling party will translate into concrete action if the MDC
re-enters the race. In this vein, police continue to deny
MDC applications for meetings, but several MDC officials
report that there is a clear trend to be more permissive on
almost a nationwide basis. While the GOZ may intend only to
make disingenuous gestures to sell its election to the
international community, the marginal opening of election
space may present the opposition with meaningful
opportunities to re-connect with and re-energize a
politically alienated electorate.

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