The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) is worried by the voter registration time frame that the electoral commission has announced.
Rita Makarau, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson recently told political parties that new voter registration to replace the current roll would commence in May 2017.
The date for the 2018 general elections has not been announced, but they make take place a year after the commencement of the registration process.
In statement on Monday, ZESN urged ZEC to give the biometric polling station-specific registration to be given adequate time.
“ZESN calls upon ZEC to ensure that this crucial exercise is awarded adequate time to guarantee that the process is inclusive and comprehensive so as to safeguard against the disenfranchisement of any potential voters.
“Furthermore, for the BVR (Biometric Voter Registration) process to succeed, it should allow ample time for intensive voter education so as to allay any fears and misconceptions about the use of ICTs in the registration process,” noted ZESN.
The watchdog fears that the implementation of the polling station-based and biometric voter registration system in the current political environment might result in targeted violence and intimidation, hence the need to guard against politically motivated violence.
Recent reports indicate political temperatures are rising as the country moves towards 2018.
“ZEC and other relevant stakeholders should put in place mechanisms and enforceable punitive measures to eliminate intimidation, fear and political violence.
“Moreover, ZEC should timeously accredit civic society organisations to conduct voter education and publicity on the new voter registration model to ensure comprehensive information is delivered and geographically covers all areas of the country adequately,” added the network.
In the run-up to the last elections in 2013, thousands of potential voters were left out due to limited time and poor awareness on the registration process.
“ZESN therefore calls for proper planning on the part of ZEC and urges the government to provide adequate financial and technical support to enable the ZEC to discharge the new voter registration model in an effective manner.
“ZESN believes that whilst the polling station-based Biometric Voter Registration system alone is not the panacea to credible, free and fair elections, there is need for transparency and accountability in the implementation of this process.
“In addition, the process should be accompanied by other electoral reforms such as, the alignment of electoral laws to the constitution, and the independence of ZEC in its operations without any executive interference, amongst others,” said ZESN.
The watchdog said the proposed threshold of up to 1,500 voters per polling station was too high and might congest the voting centres.