What the Constitution says about elections – part 2

In this new series Magari Mandebvu explains the constitutional provisions that govern the holding of elections in Zimbabwe. This supreme law of the land details exactly how the government of they must seek a mandate to govern from the people. We all need to be aware of just how this is supposed to done.

Zimbabwean opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa casts his ballot in the country’s general elections in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Last week I introduced this subject and gave some comment on the introductory section about voting and elections (ch.7, section 155, part (1)). That section continues:

part (2) The State must take all appropriate measures including legislative measures, to ensure that effect is given to the principles set out in subsection 1, and in particular must-

(a) ensure that all eligible citizens. that is to say the citizens qualified under the Fourth Schedule, are registered as voters.

The writers of this Constitution are just reminding us that a Constitution is a set of rules which our rulers must follow and those rules are meant to be public enough for us all to hold the rulers to their duty, where it says

The State must take all appropriate measures, “including legislative measures,”

that is, making laws that translate the principles of the introductory section into detailed published laws, which we should know and we should challenge the MPs if they don’t make or don’t obey those laws.

The first important point this section makes is that government must make it as easy as possible for all adult citizens to register as voters. Why the reference to the Fourth Schedule? If you have a copy of the Constitution, you will notice that, towards the end, before explanatory appendices, there are several ‘schedules’ of special and rather general application.

The Fourth Schedule is worth quoting in full:

FOURTH SCHEDULE (Sections 92,121,124,125 and 158) QUALIFICATIONS OF VOTERS

Qualifications for registration as voter

  1. (I) Subject to subparagraph (2) and to paragraph 2, a person is qualified to be registered as a voter on the voters roll of a constituency if he or she-

(a) is of or over the age of eighteen years; and

(b) is a Zimbabwean citizen.

[subparagraph 2:]

  • The Electoral Law may prescribe additional residential requirements to ensure that voters are registered on the most appropriate voters roll, but any such requirements must be consistent with this Constitution, in particular with section 67.

[paragraph 2:]

Disqualifications for registration as voter

  1. A person is disqualified to be registered as a voter-

(a)    while he or she is detained as mentally disordered or intellectually handicapped under an Act of Parliament relating to mental health;

(b)    if he or she has been declared by order of a court to be incapable of managing his or her affairs, for so long as the order remains in force; or

(c) if he or she has been convicted of an offence under the Electoral Law and declared by the High Court to be disqualified for registration as a voter or from voting, for the period he or she has been declared disqualified, but the period must not exceed five years.

And section 67 says, in paragraph 3:

(3) Subject to this Constitution, every Zimbabwean citizen who is of or over eighteen years of age has the right-

(a)     to vote in all elections and referendums to which this Constitution or any other law applies, and to do so in secret; and

(b) to stand for election for public office and, if elected, to hold such office.

It is worth noting that this schedule refers explicitly to section 158, part of Chapter 7, which we are discussing here.

Under the previous Constitution, people registered as permanent residents, though they are not citizens, were allowed to vote in Zimbabwe elections. I can’t find any reference to this in the current Constitution, so it is clear that this Constitution considers your citizenship, not where you live, the decisive factor governing your right to vote. This is logical, and in line with the practice of most countries.

The wording emphasises that every effort must be made by the State to ensure that everyone entitled to vote, wherever they live, can do so without obstacles. All citizens have a right to vote and the State has a duty to make that as easy as possible.

That includes citizens living outside the country. Closing the office that issues IDs over the extended Christmas period when diasporans might need to get a new ID in order to register as voters is a serious offence against this clause. So is putting obstacles in the way of young people, of age to vote for the first time, obtaining birth certificates or IDs.

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