Zimbabwe Parliament blocks Electoral Bill, demands changes

After passing a controversial human rights law, the Zimbabwe parliament on Wednesday rejected the Electoral Bill that precludes the diaspora vote and is fraught with loopholes seen as favoring President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party.

The House of Assembly blocked the proposed law and ordered Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to factor in a few changes before bringing it back for more debate.

Among other things, MDC legislators objected to a provision which says voter registration should be based on a particular polling station. Instead, they prefer a system allowing people to vote in any station where they are registered.

Chinamasa told parliament that the Electoral Bill does not allow expatriates to vote because politicians in his Zanu PF party can not travel to Western countries to campaign due to sanctions.

If allowed, Chinamsa said, the diaspora vote would give the MDC an unfair advantage. But the proposed law is not all doom. It has its own strenghts, one of which is a provision requiring authorities to release election results within five days of voting.

This seeks to prevent a repeat of the 2008 situation where it took the electoral body a whole month to release results amid deepening public anxiety and heightening political tensions.

The law also mandates the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to summon and censure parties and candidates over violence, as well as establishing special courts to try political violence cases.

On Tuesday, parliament passed the controversial Human Rights Bill which bars the newly-introduced Human Rights Commission from probing rights violations that occurred before February, 2009.

That means the 2008 election violence and the Gukurahundi killings of the 1980s that claimed more than 20,000 lives in the Matabeleland and Midlands will not be investigated.

Only two legislators, Siyabonga Malandu Ncube of Insiza South and Magwegwe's Felix Magalela Mafa Sibanda – both from Matabaleland, opposed the law.

Malandu Ncube told VOA he was shocked his MDC colleagues backed the law. "It's a big shame," Ncube said. "Victims of human rights abuses were looking up to the MDC to make laws that will give them justice. The dream is now gone."

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association director Okay Machisa also criticized the law calling it "unacceptable and shameful."

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