HARARE – A fresh political storm has erupted over the awarding of the closely-scrutinised tender for the country’s biometric voter registration (BVR) kits to a Chinese company by the under pressure Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
Outraged members of the opposition told the Daily News yesterday that the “controversial” award of the BVR tender was allegedly a ploy by the ruling Zanu PF to “manipulate” the results of the eagerly-awaited 2018 national polls.
This comes as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has also said it has gathered “overwhelming information” that Zec wants to disenfranchise voters in their urban strongholds, by increasing voter registration points in rural areas.
Zec announced on Thursday last week that a Chinese company, Laxton Group, had been awarded the hotly-contested tender to supply Zimbabwe with BVR kits — prompting the MDC to react angrily to the development, claiming that this was designed to benefit Zanu PF in the watershed 2018 polls.
“This (the awarding of the BVR tender to Laxton) is contrary to the recommendation of the political parties that observed the BVR validation process.
“The reasons for the Zec behaviour are manifold. First, it was a clear directive from the so-called State Procurement Board which was appointed by the Zanu PF government.
“Secondly, it is simply the perpetuation of the friendship of Zanu PF and the Communist Party of China. However, the main reason for this unmeritorious award is to discourage our people from registering to vote.
“Zanu PF and Zec do not want Zimbabweans to register in their numbers as this will clearly signal the end of Zanu PF.
“Our plea therefore to Zimbabweans is to ignore this act of discouragement and register to vote en mass,” MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said.
“We must convert this disadvantage into an advantage. The obstacles that the enemy is putting in the path of the people’s victory should motivate us into working harder. We need to unite more than ever before and protect our vote.
“We are also working hard to ensure that the process of voter registration is not manipulated further. No amount of forgery, fraud or subterfuge can defeat an idea whose hour has come. This is the time to unite,” he added.
However, Zanu PF laughed off MDC’s claims of rigging.
“Why should we rig elections, we have the people. We have the followers, people like our policies and programmes that resonate with them,” said Zanu PF spokesperson, Simon Khaya Moyo.
Zimbabwe’s quest to acquire BVR kits earlier this year caused a huge political storm, with opposition parties viewing the government’s involvement in the purchase of the equipment as problematic.
This was after the government suddenly decided to sideline the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from procuring the BVR kits, with unanswered questions being raised about how and where President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke administration was able to secure funding for this, to the staggering tune of $17 million.
The opposition alleged even then that the government had hijacked the process to rig next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections.
Tsvangirai and other opposition parties, coalescing under the banner of the (National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) have been pushing for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of the make-or-break polls — demanding that Zec chairperson Rita Makarau ceases to hold two crucial, but seemingly conflicting roles.
Makarau chairs Zec on a part-time basis while she holds a full-time position of secretary to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) — the appointing body for judiciary officials which also assigns and sets their conditions of service.
Makarau confirmed to State media at the weekend, without naming Laxton Group, that they had awarded the BVR tender to an undisclosed company.
“Our team is negotiating the terms of contract of supply with a team from the selected supplier. Once the terms are agreed upon we will then advise on the dates of delivery and date of commencement of the registration exercise,” she said.
Laxton Group was apparently awarded the tender after it proposed a $3,9 million budget to supply the BVR kits, while another bidder — Demalog Identification Systems of Germany — had charged $5,5 million.
Laxton Group is also said to have a footprint in Africa, supplying BVR kits to countries that include Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Last month the MDC claimed that Zec had allocated more BVR points in rural areas than urban areas — raising fears that this was a plan to frustrate urban voters into not registering.
Traditionally, the MDC has fared better in urban areas than in rural areas, while Zanu PF has relied on the rural vote which both the opposition and rights group say is secured through coercion and intimidation.
“Zec wants to manipulate the voters’ registration by starving areas that are perceived to be opposition strongholds, such as urban centres.
“A voters’ registration process should be transparent and inclusive, yet that is not what is happening.
“The Zec subcommittee involving political parties has not yet received the full report because this is all being done secretly,” MDC secretary for elections, Murisi Zwizwai said then.
“We are aware that there is an invisible hand of Zanu PF in all this and we are going to fight to ensure that Harare province, which has the highest numbers in terms of population has the highest number of voter registration centres,” Zwizwai added.
The MDC said from the information it had gathered, Bulawayo would have 392 centres, Matabeleland South 623 and Midlands 1 348 registration centres in phase one of the registration exercise.
In phase two, Matabeleland North would tentatively have 764 registration centres, Masvingo 1 238 and Manicaland, which would be dealt with in phase three, would have 1 003 centres.
For phase three, Mashonaland East would have 1 200, while Mashonaland Central would have 822.
In the final phase, Mashonaland West would have 1 303 centres, compared to a mere 700 for Harare.
And yet according to the 2012 national census, Harare province — which includes Chitungwiza and Ruwa — had the highest provincial population of 2 123 132, while Mashonaland West had a population of 1 501 656 people.
Tsvangirai also recently warned that Mugabe and his warring ruling Zanu PF — fearful of losing the 2018 poll — were allegedly working feverishly to steal next year’s elections.
His concerns emerged as the MDC president was concluding his tour of Mashonaland East, where he interacted with traditional leaders — who opened up to him on how they were allegedly being roped in by Zanu PF to become part of the apparatus to ensure victory for the ruling party in 2018.
Traditional chief after traditional chief had apparently told Tsvangirai during his tour of the restive Mashonaland East province, which is traditionally a Zanu PF stronghold, that they were being forced to not only join the ruling party, but to also lead its cells and wards — and to actively work to help rig next year’s polls.