Attorney-Generals office drafting new Electoral Act Bill

A draft of the proposed amendments to the countrys Electoral Law is being worked upon by legal experts in the Attorney-Generals office, SW Radio Africa can reveal.

The Attorney-General, Johannes Tomana is at the centre of the dispute that is threatening to tear apart the inclusive government after he was unilaterally appointed to this post by Robert Mugabe, without consulting the other two partners in the unity government. The work of the power-sharing government has since been hampered by haggling over his appointment, and that of central bank governor Gideon Gono, but these amendments will still go through his office.

One of these amendments state that it is mandatory for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to announce all election results within five days. After the first round of the March 2008 presidential elections, the discredited old ZEC, led by Justice George Chiweshe, took more than five weeks to announce the results.

The source added that the new amendments will also restrict postal voters to government officials serving abroad and polling officers who will be on duty on election day. People in this category will cast their votes a week before polling day and will be supervised by presiding officers from ZEC.

In the past almost all Zimbabwe Defence Forces members cast their votes a full month before election day. They were able to vote in their respective military camps, without the supervision of ZEC officials. In most cases their superior officers were their presiding officers, which forced the ZDF members to almost exclusively vote ZANU PF out of fear.

In the 2008 run-off, observers found evidence of en masse balloting in which troops were ordered to tick Mugabes name on their ballot papers.

The new law will put in place proper political violence reporting structures during campaigning. ZEC will have the power to disqualify a candidate or political party if there is compelling evidence of violence against political opponents, our source said.

The proposed amendments would also bar police officers from taking part or interfering with the electoral process, beyond maintaining law and order. The partisan police force has always faced accusations of abusing their power when they helped disabled or illiterate voters to cast their ballots in all elections held since 2000.

There are also proposals in the new law that will compel voters to register and vote closest to where they live. At the moment there is a generic ward-based voters roll system for the entire ward or district which was abused in the past.

This generic voters roll allowed people to vote more than once. What we will have in the next election is that if you register to vote at Borrowdale primary school, your name will only appear there and not anywhere else. This will greatly minimize the chances of people voting twice, the source added.

When the AGs office complete drafting the new Bill it is to be sent back to the Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who will in turn take it to parliament where MPs will debate on the new draft before it is enacted into the countrys law statutes.

Several other Laws that need to be amended, as agreed to by the three parties under the Global Political Agreement, are also being handled by the legal drafting department of the AGs office.

All amendments to our laws in the country are dealt with by this department in the AGs offices. What I can tell you now is all outstanding GPA issues under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice are being dealt with by the AGs office, the source added.

Contacted for comment, the MDC-T parliamentary chief-whip Innocent Gonese told us the process of fine-tuning a proposed Bill at the AGs office should not take more than a week.

The wording and what needs to be changed was done by the negotiators with express permission from the principals. What the AGs department is doing is writing those new changes in a legal language, otherwise its a process that doesnt take much time, Gonese said.

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