Legal watchdog, Veritas has warned that information in a news article in State media which claimed that the government has sufficient time to change the electoral law was misleading. Veritas warned that to the contrary, the bill is urgent and cannot be delayed. In a bulletin, Veritas said,
The Electoral Amendment Bill is Urgent and Cannot be Delayed
The purpose of this bulletin is to correct the grossly misleading information given in an article headlined Enough time for electoral changes in the Sunday Mail newspaper of 15th April. More alarming than the headline is the suggestion in the article itself that the Government has until the eve of polling day, whether it be in July or August, to push through the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Why is that suggestion wrong? Why is it wrong to say that the Government has until the eve of polling day to reform the Electoral law?
Because leaving reform so late is not permitted by our Constitution. As explained below, the Constitution imposes a special, earlier deadline for passing electoral laws.. If the Government is committed to having free, fair and credible elections, it must abide by the Constitution.
Deadline for Electoral Law Changes is the Day the Election Proclamation is Gazetted
Section 157(5) of the Constitution is as follows:
”After an election has been called, no change to the Electoral Law or to any other law relating to elections has effect for the purpose of that election.”
An election is “called” when the President’s proclamation ordering the holding of the election is published in the Government Gazette.
This means that:
- the Electoral Amendment Bill currently stalled in the National Assembly must be passed by both Houses of Parliament, signed by the President and published in the Government Gazette as an Act of Parliament before the President’s proclamation calling the election [if the Government intends the Bill’s changes to the Electoral Act to apply to the forthcoming election];
- the same deadline will apply to:
- new regulations made under the Electoral Act or changes to present regulations, whether they add to, amend, replace or repeal regulations already in place;
- changes to “any other law relating to elections”.
- changes that the Government may be tempted to make using the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act [which Veritas and many others are convinced is invalid for inconsistency with the Constitution].
The Electoral Amendment Bill Must be Fast-Tracked
Parliament was recalled two weeks ago and standing orders were amended to fast track the Electoral Amendment Bill. Unfortunately the process was stalled.
It is reassuring that the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Ziyambi Ziyambi, fully appreciates the position as set out in the Constitution. The Minister has said again that the Electoral Amendment Bill will have to be fast-tracked when Parliament resumes so that it is passed in time:
“The electoral amendments that we are doing, as long as we do them before the proclamation, can be used for this particular election … (W)e can still dispose of these issues in Parliament the week beginning the 8th May”
When Will the Election Proclamation be Gazetted?
The proclamation date remains speculative. It is possible, however, to state the earliest possible date [30th April] and the latest possible date [8th July] permitted by the Constitution and the Electoral Act. [See Election Watch 2/2018 of 23rd February for more detail [link].
Talk of a proclamation date close to 30th April ceased some time ago. That is understandable — the delay over the Electoral Amendment Bill becoming law and the delay in the publication of the provisional voters roll have obviously excluded the possibility of a proclamation being gazetted much before the end of May. A proclamation date well into June is becoming more likely with every day that passes.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] has not yet announced a firm date for the start of the “de-duplication” stage in the production of the provisional voters roll, let alone dates for the publication and inspection of that roll. ZEC chairperson Justice Chigumba was reported in the same edition of the Sunday Mail as saying that the remaining AFIS de-duplication hardware and software was expected on 15th April and would have to be tested and configured before it could start running “a few days later”.