Current Electoral System in Zimbabwe on Persons with Disability #ElectionsZW
Section 120 (1) (d) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the election of two Senators to represent persons with disabilities in the manner provided for in the Electoral Act in Section 45. Seventh Schedule (Section 45A) of the Electoral Act also provides for election of the two Senators to represent persons with disabilities. Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 2 Section 268 (1) also states that ten women shall be elected by a system of proportional representation. The Constitution of Zimbabwe No.2 further states that election to provincial and metropolitan councils must be conducted in accordance with the Electoral Law, which must ensure that the women elected under party list system of proportional representation should include women with disabilities.
These are the laws that provide for the election of persons with disability in Zimbabwe
The 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe has significantly expanded human rights protections for vulnerable groups such as children, women, PWDs and veterans of the liberation struggle. While Section 67 of the Constitution generally affords every Zimbabwean the right to participate in elections, either as voters or candidates, section 22 of the Constitution specifically admonishes the State and all institutions and agencies of government to recognize the rights of persons with disabilities and assist them to achieve their full potential and minimize the disadvantages suffered by them.
In pursuance of this provision which aims at elevating the rights of PWDs in order to achieve equality of outcomes, the Constitution of Zimbabwe introduced some form of affirmative action where two (2) seats are reserved in the Senate for persons representing persons with disabilities. These Senators are elected through an Electoral College constituted by organisations and institutions of persons with disabilities and from the National Disability Board.
Shortfalls with the current situation
Persons with disabilities are currently represented by two Senators and no reserved seats for Persons with Disabilities in the National Assembly. While PWDs are not prevented from contesting in the general elections for the 210 constituencies in the National Assembly, they face a myriad of challenges in doing so. It can be argued that they face similar challenges with women and the youth, with the added challenge of accessibility challenges to be able to effectively compete against persons without similar challenges on the campaign trail. Thus, there may be need to consider reservation of some seats for PWDs in the National Assembly.
Protection of the secrecy of the ballot for visually impaired voters
In Zimbabwe visual impaired persons are assisted in voting. There is no braille ballot paper provision for use by persons who are able to read braille thus compromising the secrecy of their vote.
Challenges faced by Uganda
Uganda faces challenges in ensuring the secrecy of the ballot of visually impaired voters is upheld via the use of braille or tactile ballots. In 1996 the Uganda Electoral Commission provided braille ballot papers for the visually impaired voters. This was not successful since a large number of the visually impaired voters who turned up were not braille literate and therefore could not use the ballots.
The Uganda Electoral Commission also faced a challenge whereby it could not ascertain the total number of visually impaired voters in an area in need of the ballots because of lack of disaggregated information. For the exercise to be successful, the Commission needs to know the number of citizens who are visually impaired in a constituency and the number of braille literate voters.
Further, the Commission faces a challenge in the provision of sign language interpretation for all its electoral processes as there are shortages of interpreters and there is no information on which sign language the majority of voters need for voter awareness.
There is need for Zimbabwe to review its electoral system and come up with a robust electoral system that cater for the needs of the PWDs by affording them an equal opportunity to participate in the election from the grassroots level. To enable representation from the grassroots, Uganda embarked on a journey and first amended their Constitution in 1995, amended the Disabled Persons Act and the Parliamentary Elections Act. The legal provisions were not set up in a short period but over a long period of time. Prior to the amendments to various pieces of legislation, the position at law in Uganda was similar to the one currently obtaining in Zimbabwe where Senators representing PWDs are chosen through the electoral college constituted by registered PWD organizations and institutions. This was challenged in Court as it left out those not affiliated to either entity thereby violating the right to associate and to disassociate.
Representation of persons with disabilities from the grassroots allows meaningful and effective representation since they will be aware of issues. Effective and meaningful representation from the villages is possible mainly because the electoral system depends heavily on the use of the local structures for persons with disabilities’ register which is necessary if one is to contest under the persons with disabilities banner.
Disaggregated figures are required for the Electoral Commission to plan and reasonably accommodate persons with disability. There is need to have the statistics of PWDs and their disabilities.
Uganda undertook an awareness campaign exercise on the rights of PWDs through different platforms to sensitise the citizens of their rights to participate in politics. In Uganda and Zimbabwe PWDs are free to join any political party and to contest for a seat as a Member of Parliament or any position. The challenge is that the PWDs find it difficult to compete with able bodied candidates in terms of finances and mobility and due to stigmatisation.
Recommendations by the Delegation
The delegation, therefore recommends the following:
Going forward, the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe should be amended to allow for PWDs representation in the National Assembly and also to allow for gradual affirmative action in the representation of PWDs in all sectors of governance.
The Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] must be amended to do away with an Electoral College constituted by associations and Private Voluntary Organizations which may, in some instances only be found at national level leaving out a large number of constituency members at grassroots level by March 2023.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should through voter education, encourage the participation of PWDs in the electoral process from registering as voters to running for office.
Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency should avail disaggregated figures on persons with disability and the nature of disability to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to plan and reasonably accommodate persons with disability.
Political parties should financially support their respective PWDs Political Flag Duty Bearers who might intend to contest as Members of Parliament of Councillors since most of these PWDS will need political mentorship.
Disability Movements in Zimbabwe should unite under one council preferably the National Disability Council so that there can champion for electoral systems and electoral laws that are disability inclusive by March 2023.
The government should ensure a just and fair society where persons with disabilities live a prosperous and dignified livelihood. Therefore, there is need to strengthen the capacity of PWDs from grassroots level to national level to ensure that their needs are represented.