Experts of constitutional law are concerned that despite the country’s Lancaster House constitution having been amended with the approval of the opposition, President Mugabe still enjoys powers to appoint an electoral commission of his choice and play around with the voters’ roll without much hindrance.
Although the just enacted Amendment No 19 increased the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission from seven to nine members and created more gender balance, their appointments, as before, are still entirely at the discretion of the President.
Independent lawyers say it is in the wording of the Act that leaves it open for manipulation as it states that the President, “after consultation” with the Judiciary Services Commission and Committee on Standing Rules and Orders of Parliament appoints the commission.
President Mugabe appoints members of the Judiciary Service Commission and has set up a docile judiciary through the appointment and promotion of his loyalists.
“Section 14 of the amendment clearly states that “after consultations” means that the person required to consult before arriving at a decision makes the consultation but is not bound by the advice or opinion given by the person consulted.
“Instead, it should have been “in consultation” as it makes the President legally bound to first seek the agreement or consent before making such decisions,” explained Kucaca Phulu a prominent Bulawayo lawyer with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a non governmental organisation.
He said as long as the President appoints an official at his sole discretion, and where he or his party are candidates, the independence of that official will always be in question.
“What is needed is for a public process of nomination and appointment with the President only required for the ceremonial installation of the commissioners,” he said.
Phulu says it is also regrettable that the agreed amendment also allows for an authority other than the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to register voters.
“The position of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is clear as to the lack of independence and accountability of the office of the registrar-general.
“Blame can squarely be placed on the registrar general for the deplorable state of the voters’ roll and the failure to ensure that a comprehensive, transparent and independent registration is carried out. The amendment did not make any changes in relation to this office and therefore there will still be a lack of transparency and violation of the rights of voters,” he said.
Self declared Zanu (PF) loyalist and close relative of President Mugabe, Tobaiwa Mudede, has been and is still at helm of the registrar general’s office since independence in 1980.
He has in the past been accused on several occasions of manipulating the voters’ roll and creating ghost voters, but vehemently denies the allegations.