Zimbabwe: Elections postponed

JOHANNESBURG, 27 March (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at the weekend announced that parliamentary elections, which had been originally scheduled for next month, would be held in May.
Official reports cited delays in updating of the register of voters. Mugabe said: "When all is set, elections could be held early in May or mid-May."

The Zimbabwe voters' register is widely believed to be outdated and inaccurate. Last year, a UN inspection team found that a quarter of registered voters had died, while another third of the estimated 5.8 million registered voters had moved constituencies since the last elections in 1995.

Simeon Mawanza, a spokesman for ZimRights, told IRIN on Monday that the government was struggling against time constraints to hold the elections while at the same time honouring the provisions of the Electoral Act. He said the registration exercise, for example, has been extended until the end of this month, which makes the delimitation of constituencies impossible without a complete voter register.

Zimbabwe's electoral act requires Mugabe to appoint a delimitation commission, whose main task is to draw up constituent boundaries based on the population of registered voters. The commission, to be convened at five-yearly intervals and to be chaired by either a High court or Supreme court judge plus three other members, had not yet been appointed.

Home affairs ministry officials reportedly said it would take at least three weeks to compile an updated voters register after the closure of registration. The act further stipulates a maximum period of 21 days for inspecting the register, an additional 10 days to produce a corrected register if necessary, and another period for a further inspection by those voters who had raised queries.

"The ideal period for holding the elections would be 60 days after the end of the registration exercise," a home affairs official said. He added that it would be illegal for the registrar-general, Tobaiwa Mudede, to conduct national elections before a report was submitted by the chairman of the delimitation commission.

The biggest challenge is updating the voters register. The home affairs official said that the number of constituencies can either be reduced or increased from the 1995 register, depending on the numbers to be removed because of death or those to be added on reaching voting age. "If the legal process was to be followed, elections will be held sometime in June," added the official.

Meanwhile, opposition parties grouped under the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), at the weekend said they plan to embark on protest action against the government's denial to consider their demands to amend the Electoral Act, Zimbabwe's 'Standard' newspaper reported on Monday.

The parties' demands include the need to have the elections supervised by an independent electoral commission to be chaired by a retired judge, and to abolish Mugabe's prerogative to appoint 30 non-constituency members of parliament.


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