As the country gears up for the 2023 elections, inefficiencies at the Registrar General’s offices across the country are likely to negatively impact first-time voters as they are struggling to register as voters. The registry offices serve a limited number of people per day despite the deadline for the delimitation of constituencies being set for next year.
Delimitation, which is provided for in Sections 160 and 161 of the Constitution, refers to the dividing of the country into constituencies and wards for the purposes of elections and involves coming up with a minimum threshold of registered voters in each of the country’s 210 National Assembly constituencies.
While most registry offices have since reopened following the relaxation of lockdown measures, they are only serving a limited number of people owing to a myriad of challenges including the critical shortage of consumables.
This is happening at a time when many young people who did not vote in the 2018 polls have since attained 18 years of age and are now eligible to exercise their democratic voting rights.
However, for them to register to participate in the plebiscite, they should be in possession of national identity cards, something the Registrar-General’s Department is struggling to provide in the meantime.
What further compounds the situation is that those citizens who register as voters after the delimitation process has been concluded would not be eligible to cast their ballots in the 2023 polls.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) spokesperson, Joyce Kazembe, recently said the electoral management body would soon establish 900 mobile voter registration centres across the country following a public outcry over the inaccessibility of their provincial and district offices to many would-be voters.
She was, however, quick to say that would be dependent on the RG’s Office having gone to those places to issue people with IDs.
Political analyst, Mkhululi Tshuma, said the incompetence of registry offices would result in very few people being able to register as first-time voters to the benefit of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
“This is part of a grand strategy to assault the country’s democratization agenda,” Tshuma told CITE. He further explained: “The lesser the number of registered voters, the easier it becomes to rig. The more the people register to vote, the lesser the chances of elections being rigged without exposure. So to limit collateral damage, the party is pushing for less and less people being registered.”
He said it was regrettable that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which should be at the forefront of ensuring that people are registered, was missing in action. “So is the registry department,” said Tshuma.
Vusumuzi Chirwa, a Bulawayo resident, said should the RG’s Office continue with the way it is operating, the majority of youths will not be able to vote in 2023. “Clearly it’s a calculated move to exclude would-be first-time voters from participating in the next elections,” said Chirwa.
“We cannot prioritise the issuance of vaccine certificates over National IDs. The government should prioritize the citizenship of young people by issuing them national IDs and the registry offices should serve as many people seeking IDs as possible.” He added: “Covid-19 is not an excuse; that’s why we have Covid-19 protocols like social distancing and masking up in place; the registry offices should be treated as essential services providers in any case.”
Another political analyst, Effie Ncube said the inability of the government to address the “chaos, corruption and sky-high incompetence at the Registrar General’s office throughout the country” is a criminal dereliction of constitutional duty that has been ongoing since 1980 when the country attained its independence.
“As a result of this monumental failure, millions of people, especially youths, can’t register to vote and as such will be disenfranchised in 2023 as in previous elections,” decried Ncube.
“Of course, Zanu-PF does not want young people to vote as it knows all too well that they are unlikely to cast a vote for the party that has destroyed the country into pieces. Young people have been the hardest hit by unemployment and poverty, thanks to Zanu-PF.
He further elaborated: “Rigging starts way before the polling day, and one of the ways Zanu-PF has been doing it is by suppressing voter registration and turnout in certain areas and among certain age groups. In this way, they hope to always remain in office.”
Ncube said there is an urgent need for a sustained and comprehensive programme to address the IDs backlog. “At the top of that programme should be the elimination of corruption,” he said.
“Also, the registry should be decentralised to every local clinic and school throughout the country and open for eight hours. Weekends should also be set aside for young people. It is important that I should stress that workers who will be doing that should be adequately paid.”
Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology