THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s unexplained decision to drastically reduce the number of mobile voter registration centres in the Matabeleland provinces while increasing the centres elsewhere has triggered an uproar among political parties and civil organisations.
ZEC says it will set up more than 2 700 mobile voter registration centres during the first phase of the mobile Biometric Voter Registration drive which starts on Tuesday.
According to a schedule released by the election management body, Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South will have the least number of centres while perceived Zanu PF strongholds of Midlands and Mashonaland provinces will have the highest number of the registration centres.
For example, Bulawayo, a traditional opposition dominated province has been allocated 152 centres while 354 centres have been set aside for the Midlands province. ZEC’s decision to allocate fewer centres in Matabeleland has however been challenged by some people who feel the region is being short-changed.
“We are aware that elections in Zimbabwe are a seasonal ritual to hoodwink unsuspecting citizens and the gullible international community. The actual election day is preceded by all sorts of chicanery spearheaded by ZEC to benefit Zanu PF. By setting up few mobile voter registration centres in Matabeleland, ZEC is trying to disenfranchise voters in supposedly opposition strongholds in the process giving Zanu PF an undeserved and unfair advantage over other players,” Zapu spokesperson Msongelwa Ndlovu said.
Ndlovu said despite the setback people in Matabeleland should throng the few registration centres in large numbers.
“We urge Zimbabweans to stampede these voting centres and register to vote even against these odds. Voting is a right for every eligible citizen,” said Ndlovu.
Ibhetshu likazulu Director, Mbuso Fuzwayo echoed Ndlovu’s sentiments saying: “It is unfortunate that the government will always try by all means to exclude people from Matabeleland region from fully participating in electoral processes. By availing few voting registration centres in Matabeleland , the government is trying to clearly exclude Matabeleland people from registering to vote. If all things were equal, the region was supposed to in fact have been allocated more centres because there are very few people registered in the region than other provinces,” Fuzwayo said.
According to ZEC, Matabeleland region is at risk of losing a number of constituencies and wards due to the fewer number of registered voters in the region.
Constituencies such as Matobo North, Insiza South, Bulilima West, Magwegwe and Gwanda South are likely to be adversely affected by the coming delimitation exercise if people in the region do not register to vote.
“Under these circumstances, the most logical thing which ZEC was supposed to do was to increase the number of voter registration centres in areas with less number of registered people. What is special about Midlands to have such a high number of centres while Matebeleland North has got very few centres,” Fuzwayo said.
A consortium of Matebeleland based civil organizations coalescing under the banner Ekhaya VOTE 2023 is also aggrieved by ZEC’s decision.
“While we applaud ZEC for rolling out the mobile voter registration exercise, we feel the registration centres allocated to Matabeleland provinces are inadequate. For example, we have places like Binga and Nkayi which are sparsely populated and takes hours to travel from one place to another. Such places should have been allocated more mobile centres,” said Ekhaya VOTE 2023 spokesperson Nkosikhona Dibiti.
The Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) also expressed its reservations about the mobile registration centres.
“Our many concerns is where these mobile voter registration centres are going to be located. We do not want a situation whereby the majority of these centres will be located in unfriendly places like police and army bases. These centres should be easily accessible to each and every eligible voter,” said the party ‘s Bulawayo provincial spokesperson Swithern Chiroowodza.