HARARE – The jury is out on the recent move by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to temporarily ban all police officers from registering to vote in next year’s crunch elections — which could see thousands of police officers failing to cast their ballots in the watershed 2018 polls.
This comes as the national elections management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), as well as local election observer groups are intensifying their efforts to have millions of prospective voters register in the ongoing biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise.
Zec is targeting seven million voters for the current BVR registration exercise — ahead of the much-awaited 2018 polls which could see President Robert Mugabe and his brawling ruling Zanu PF facing a grand coalition of opposition parties in that plebiscite.
In a memorandum seen by the Daily News at the weekend, the ZRP chief staff officer in charge of operations — senior assistant commissioner Douglas Nyakutsikwa — recently informed all police officers that they were not allowed to register as voters until further notice.
“The memorandum serves to advise commanders that police officers should temporarily suspend their registration on the biometric voter registration (BVR) that is currently underway.
“Previously, police officers were privileged to vote through a special vote system that has since been repelled. The current scenario requires a prospective voter, including police officers, to register at places where they are going to cast their votes — which is prohibitive in terms of our deployments during the voting dates.
“Currently, solutions are being sought with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zez) to address the anomaly,” Nyakutsikwa said in a memo dated October 24, 2017.
“It is against this background that all police officers are directed to temporarily suspend registration until further notice,” he added in the memo which was also copied to police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, deputy commissioner-generals, depot commandants, senior assistant commissioners and department directors.
Efforts by the Daily News yesterday to get further comments from the ZRP bore no fruit, as both police national spokesperson Charity Charamba and her deputy, Paul Nyathi, were not answering calls to their mobile phones.
But some insiders said the ZRP was insisting that there should be another arrangement to allow police officers to vote, following the recent outlawing of the special voting provision under which they voted in 2013.
Amendments to section 22A of the Electoral Act introduced a precise polling station-based voters’ roll in which one can only vote at one specific polling station — where one’s name appears; thereby effectively eliminating the special voting provision.
This implies that all police officers are expected to vote only at the polling stations that they are registered to vote at.
However, this is apparently operationally problematic — due to “unpredictable” deployments by the ZRP on voting days, which could see officers shunted to areas far away from the constituencies that they would have registered to vote in.
In July 2013, and two weeks ahead of voting by the general public, the special vote was rocked by chaotic scenes which saw thousands of police officers and civil servants failing to vote.
The special vote had traditionally been organised to allow civil servants and police officers to vote ahead of the general public, as they would be working on the actual days of polling.
Zec chairperson Rita Makarau was also not reachable yesterday. However, she is on record saying that there was nothing that the commission could do to give special dispensation to those working on polling day, after the scrapping of the special vote.
“If you are not at home, you will not vote. The devil is in the law. Change the law,” Makarau said earlier this year.
Some election observers who were vocal against the amendments to the Electoral Act yesterday called for the re-introduction of the special voting provision, saying the current arrangement would rob police officers and others of their constitutional right to vote.
“Zesn has continuously called for the reinstatement of the special vote in order to ensure that no one is disenfranchised. We believe that there is need to reconsider reinstating the special vote as it enables electoral officials and the security officials on duty on election day to vote in advance,” Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) director Rindai Chipfunde Vava said.
The sentiments were echoed by the director of the Election Resource Centre (ERC), Tawanda Chimhini, who said there was need to re-visit the law.
“We reiterate our calls for comprehensive electoral reforms covering the administrative, political and legislative aspects of elections in Zimbabwe for the promotion of credible elections in the country,” Chimhini told the Daily News.
Zimbabwe is for the firsts time using the BVR system for registration for next year’s elections, which analysts say could bring to an end Zanu PF’s long political dominance — due to a combination of the grand coalition, as well as serious divisions within its ranks, including the sackings of former vice presidents Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mujuru was hounded out of Zanu PF in the run-up to the party’s hotly-disputed congress in 2014 together with other liberation stalwarts who included former Cabinet ministers such as Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo — on untested allegations of plotting to topple Mugabe from power.
Mnangagwa, who had appeared to be a shoo-in to succeed the 93-year-old in the aftermath of Mujuru’s ouster, was cut loose with disdain last week when he was fired from both the government and Zanu PF, on a raft of damaging allegations.
The 75-year-old had been at Mugabe’s side for nearly 54 years.
Political analysts have said a grand coalition of the opposition, fielding a single candidate against Mugabe, stands a very good chance of winning next year’s elections — especially at a time there is mindless bloodletting in Zanu PF, as well as deep economic problems in the country.