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Election Monitoring Group Says Zimbabwe Electoral Reform Bill Flawed

Electoral system reform legislation making its way through the Zimbabwean parliament would effect some "significant" changes but falls short in many respects, according to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a civic election monitoring group.

The organization, which mobilized thousands of monitors in the 2005 general election, has issued a new report which concludes that the “effectiveness of any electoral reforms depend on how electoral laws are applied and enforced in practice.”

The ZESN report notes that the legislation introduces provisions to make certain forms of intimidation of participants in elections criminal offenses, and also stipulates that an intimidating practice will at the same time constitute an electoral malpractice.

But for this new regimen to be effective, it says, an “independent electoral commission needs to be given powers to direct the police chief to ensure that proper investigations are conducted.. It adds that “legislation alone cannot prevent malpractices.”

The organization said the legislation should ensure there is an impartial, efficient and active electoral commission and that there is rigorous observation and monitoring of all stages of the electoral process. It added that before final delimitation of constituencies such an independent commission should take into account public comments.

ZESN noted that the proposed electoral law amendment bill does not address misuse of state funds for electoral purposes, which it described as a serious defect because it would allow the ruling party to “exploit an unfair advantage."

Meanwhile, the Christian Alliance, another civic organization, has launched a national voter registration awareness campaign intended to compensate for what it says was a flawed and ineffective government mobile voter registration campaign.

Phase one of the official mobile registration drive put around 80,000 new voters on the national roll, a total critics say fell far short of what it should have accomplished. A so-called "mop-up" campaign that followed was not much better, ZESN said.

The Christian Alliance launched its own campaign in Bulawayo on Sunday with an appearance by gospel musician Pastor G and several dance groups. Police approved the launch rally but organizers said posters announcing it were vandalized.

Christian Alliance campaign convener Useni Sibanda told reporter Chris Gande of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that apart from encouraging people to register the coalition of religious leaders is urging them to get more politically involved.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...