<strong>HARARE - </strong>As the eagerly-awaited July 30 polls beckon, the national elections management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), is reeling from multiple lawsuits — with the High Court set to hear the latest legal action today in which lawyers are demanding that it reveals the names of “suspicious” people working for it.</p>
This comes as the High Court last week also ordered the under-fire Zec to release the provisional voters’ roll, following two other lawsuits by wary opposition parties.
In today’s case, the High Court will hear an application by a civic group that specialises in legal matters, Veritas — which is seeking an order to compel Zec to disclose the names of people seconded to it by the government, amid suspicions that these include military and intelligence operatives.
Veritas executive director Valerie Ingham-Thorpe and trustee Brian Desmond Crozier, maintain that the court challenge is in the spirit of improving the conditions under which next month’s watershed national elections will happen.
Zec and Attorney-General Prince Machaya are cited as the respondents in the case.
“The Electoral Act provides that the first respondent (Zec) must select, screen and train all persons seconded to it.
“In respect of persons being seconded from the civil service or other statutory bodies, I contend that in the interest of transparency, the first respondent must publish the names of these persons as soon as they have been seconded and must also stipulate the guidelines that will be used to select and screen such persons.
“I further contend that there is no legal basis for the involvement of the uniformed forces in the logistical management of the electoral process since Section 10 of the Electoral Act only provides for members of the Civil Service Commission and the Health Services Board to be seconded to the respondent,” Ingham-Thorpe said in her affidavit.
She also argued that the law prohibits serving members of the security services from being employed in civil institutions, adding that the public has an interest in knowing the names and the selection criteria for persons who will be tasked with working for Zec during an election.
Ingham-Thorpe’s affidavit cites Section 156 (a) and Section 239 (a) of the Constitution, as well as Section 3 of the Electoral Act, saying Zec has an obligation to conduct an election transparently and to promote transparency in all its operations.
“In terms of the above provisions that relate to transparency, the applicants will seek a declaratory order that the first respondent has a legal duty to make available for public scrutiny all its standard operating procedures, policies and internal manuals which relate to the conduct of elections, including the 2018 elections, the names and roles of certain personnel involved in the administration of the election and the criteria by which it assesses the fairness of electoral coverage by broadcasters, print publishers and public broadcasters for the purposes of Part XXIB of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13),” Ingham-Thorpe said.
However, Zec says in its reply that the application does not justify judicial intervention, adding that the applicants are not entitled to the relief that they are seeking.
“The applicants … do not aver that the Commission has acted unlawfully or that it has failed to perform its duties.
“These being the accepted criteria for interference with the commission’s work, there is no basis made out of the founding papers for the relief that is sought by the applicants,” Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba said.
With Zimbabwe fast approaching the July 30 elections, Zec has come under the spotlight, mainly from the opposition, who claim that the national elections management body needs to be reformed ahead of the crucial polls.
On June 5, thousands of opposition supporters — mainly drawn from the MDC Alliance — marched in Harare to press for a raft of reforms which include the change of personnel at Zec and transparency in the printing and distribution of ballot papers.
According to the law, changes at Zec can only be made possible by Parliament through either amendments or an overhaul of current statutes governing its operations — meaning that both the ruling Zanu PF and the MDC may have missed that chance during the life of the current Parliament.
Next month’s elections have generated such interest among both ordinary Zimbabweans and ambitious politicians alike, that a staggering 22 opposition leaders are set to contest President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the presidential plebiscite.
This year’s record 23 presidential candidates include MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa and former vice president Joice Mujuru.
The polls themselves will be the first in the past two decades not to feature former Zanu PF strongman Robert Mugabe and the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai — who lost his valiant battle against cancer of the colon in February this year.
Mugabe resigned from office late last year a few hours after Parliament had initiated proceedings to impeach him — after he had refused to leave office during eight tense days that began with the military intervening in the governance of the country.