Electoral Act faces class action

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HARARE – The battle for the much anticipated next year’s election is gathering steam with a local social movement, #IAMZIMBABWE, becoming the latest group to crank the heat on President Robert Mugabe and his government to pave way for the holding of free and fair elections.


The social movement has begun collecting signatures for a class action lawsuit on behalf of Zimbabweans seeking the alignment of the Electoral Act to the new Constitution.


This comes as the country’s opposition parties are ratcheting up pressure on government to ensure an even electoral playing field in next year’s watershed poll by making sweeping electoral reforms which include the disbandment of the current Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) secretariat.


#IAMZIMBABWE social movement is seeking at least 100 applicants by June 2 to be able to file a High Court application for the certification of the class-action lawsuit.


Harare lawyer Fadzayi Mahere, who is spearheading the class action, said after garnering the required number of litigants, a meeting to discuss necessary steps — including details of the litigation strategy and the relief sought — will be convened.


“The idea is to demand that the right to vote be given its fullest expression including through a simplified voter registration and voting process.


“The law, for example, requires that voter registration be a continuous process. It is also key to ensure that the Electoral Act is aligned to the Constitution,” said the feisty Mahere.


According to the Class Actions Act, the authority of the High Court is required to grant leave for the institution of a class action on behalf of any class of persons after considering whether the action is appropriate, and a prima facie cause of action exists.


The social movement accuses government of flagrantly violating provisions of a new Constitution by delaying the alignment of the laws.


Section 155(2) of the Constitution provides that the State “must take all appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to ensure that every citizen who is eligible to vote has an opportunity to cast a vote and must facilitate voting by persons with disabilities or special needs.”


The General Laws Amendment Bill (GLA Bill), passed by Parliament last year, was supposed to align the Electoral Act to the Constitution but alignment issues were ignored by the GLA Bill.


Under section 67(3) of the Constitution, every adult citizen has the right to vote in all elections.  But the GLA Bill did nothing to change the provisions of the present Electoral Act which deny the vote to citizens in the Diaspora, prisoners and hospital patients.


Legal experts say Zec cannot be left to handle these problems administratively, without amendments to the Electoral Act. The Act also gives Zec a virtual monopoly over the provision of voter education and imposes several additional restrictions on its provision by other people.


Also, Zec’s constitutional independence, guaranteed by section 235 of the Constitution, is infringed by the present wording of section 12 of the Electoral Act, which requires Zec to get approval from the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister before accepting any donation.

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