ACCESSING THE NATIONAL VOTERS’ ROLL THROUGH THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN ZIMBABWE

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Author: 
Justice Alfred Mavedzenge
Journal Citation: 
ZRoLJ
Media Neutral Citation: 
[2017] ZRoLJ 01
Publication Date: 
28 February 2017

 

ACCESSING THE NATIONAL VOTERS’ ROLL THROUGH THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN ZIMBABWE

Justice Alfred Mavedzenge1

 

Abstract

The call for electoral reforms in Zimbabwe has been at the centre of deliberations on political governance and democratic reform in the country.  The Constitution2  prescribes minimum standards and principles to which  the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe must  adhere. Zimbabwe is also bound by the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections which should give  effect  to amendments to the Electoral Act3    and related legislation.4

Amongst the key changes5  which  must be made  to the Electoral Act are those  giving  the Zimbabwe Electoral  Commission (ZEC) the independence to fundraise  for its operations; the independence to decide  on foreign  observer missions without  interference from the sitting government; allowing  diaspora Zimbabweans to cast their vote in elections; and imposing certain  professional standards6   to be applied  by ZEC when recruiting staff.

The main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has collaborated with other opposition parties7   to craft a document titled the National  Electoral Reform Agenda, which  details  the reforms required to give  effect  to the standards and principles prescribed by the Constitution. However, the issue of public access to the national 

voters’  roll has attracted much  attention as signified by the court  applications8    made  to compel ZEC to release  the national  voters’ roll to the public. The national  voter’s roll should be available to the public  as it is an existing  constitutional right, which  the legislature are obliged  to give effect to through  amendments to the Electoral Act.

This paper  argues  that the issue as to whether  citizens  are entitled  to access  the national voter’s roll has been settled in the Constitution which requires all State institutions  to exercise public  power  and discharge their  functions in a transparent and accountable manner as enforced through  the right of access  to information, enshrined in s 62. This right entitles citizens to request any record  of information held by the State which is obliged  to provide the requested information if that information is needed  by the requester for purposes of fostering public accountability.

ZEC has the duty to provide citizens with access to the national voters’ roll because it must be accountable and transparent regarding  the state and condition  of the national voters’ roll. Additionally, the State is obliged to provide access to the requested record if the information is needed by the requester to protect or exercise any of the rights entitled  to the citizen by law. Citizens have the right to a free and fair election as interpreted in the context of the entrenched values  of transparency and accountability which  include  the right to hold ZEC accountable for the manner in which  elections are organised. To exercise this right, the citizens can request  access to the national voters’ roll by invoking the right of access to information held by the State.

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1 By Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Public law at the University of Cape Town and a practising constitutional lawyer in Zimbabwe.

2 2013. See in particular sections 155, 156 and 158

3 [Chapter 2:13] of Zimbabwe

4 Including the legislation governing freedom of the media, freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly.

5 This information is gleaned from unpublished position papers presented by various Zimbabwean civil society organisations and academics. Some of the information can be obtained from https://erczim.org/?cat=36 (Accessed on 29 July 2016)

6 To protect the independence and integrity of ZEC. It has been argued that these standards should, amongst other stipula- tions, prohibit the recruitment of serving State security agents to work within ZEC as this may undermine the independence of the Commission

7 Which include the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube, Transform Zimbabwe, the African Democratic Party and Progres- sive Democrats of Zimbabwe.