With a new round of national elections likely to be held some time in 2012, Zimbabwean politicians and civil society activists are wrangling over provisions of electoral legislation that proposes to manage the voter registration and voting at a local level, which some consider inadvisable given the risk of manipulation by partisan local authorities.
Under the Electoral Amendment Bill in parliament, lawmakers propose to make the polling station the basis of the electoral process: voter registration and maintenance of rolls would take place there and voters would have to cast ballots at that station.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the leading civic group in this domain, voiced reservations about the proposed new system, saying it could encourage tactics such as displacing voters from their polling wards to prevent them from casting ballots.
ZESN earlier this year urged the overhaul of the national voters roll after an audit found 27 percent of eligible voters listed therein to be deceased.
ZESN director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said that while local registration and voter rolls may be widely used in other countries, such a system is not right for Zimbabwe given the political climate and past abuses of the electoral system.
ZESN recommends the relaxation of postal voting rules making that method more widely available to persons who for whatever reason be at the polling station on voting day.
ZESN added that a localized system "increases opportunities for post-election retribution. In the past, voters have been targeted for punishment for voting for the wrong party or candidate by losing contestants," the organization said.
But Elections Director Paul Themba Nyathi of the Movement for Democratic Change formation headed by Industry Minister Welshman Ncube said local control of the voting process can reduce election irregularities.
Legislators Paul Mangwana of ZANU-PF and Innocent Gonese of the MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai debated the issue in a panel discussion.
Mangwana said localized voter registration would be the best thing that could happen to Zimbabwe’s electoral system, but Mwonzora expressed serious misgivings.
Gonese says the current situation in Zimbabwe does not require localized voting but the resolution of other issues having to do in particular with election-related violence.
Mangwana accused the Tsvangirai MDC formation of moving the goalposts on electoral reform, which he said unity government negotiators had comprehensively addressed.