Activists critical of franchise denial to expats

Human rights activists have criticised the Zimbabwe government for denying citizens living abroad the right to vote.

"Zimbabweans' right to vote is enshrined in the constitution", Gabriel Shumba, a human rights lawyer with the South Africa-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, told IRIN.

He was dismissive of the argument made in parliament on Wednesday by Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, that the constitution did not extend the franchise to people residing outside Zimbabwe.

Parliamentary elections are due in March next year.

The official daily, The Herald, on Thursday reported Chinmasa as saying that even if the constitution gave non-resident Zimbabweans the vote, their registration would not be possible because Zimbabwean officials are banned from travelling to most of the countries where expatriates are based.

"There is a travel ban against the Zanu-PF leadership, from the President down to the lowest ZANU-PF [the ruling party] cadre, to travel to European Union countries, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand... How could ZANU-PF be able to canvass for support of Zimbabweans in the diaspora when its political leadership suffers from a travel ban in those countries?" he remarked.

Emily Wellman, another Zimbabwean human rights activist based in South Africa, cited estimates of three million Zimbabweans living outside the country, and said most of them were probably critical of the ruling party.

Considering how closely the last parliamentary polls were contested, "even a million votes could influence the outcome, so why would the ZANU-PF want Zimbabweans living abroad to vote?" she asked.