Call for new voters' roll after cleanup campaign displacement

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has called on the government to urgently produce a new voters' roll in the wake of its controversial cleanup campaign, which has led to the relocation of thousands of urban dwellers to rural areas.

A two-month demolition campaign targeting "illegal structures" - mostly informal homes and markets in urban areas - has left around 700,000 people without shelter, while the UN estimates that the forced evictions have affected up to 2.4 million people to varying degrees.

The ZESN said Operation Murambatsvina ('Drive Out Filth') had resulted in voters being removed from their constituencies of registration.

"Operation Murambatsvina has resulted in the forcible displacement of large numbers of urban dwellers. Although they are still on the voters' roll, they are no longer able to exercise their right to vote, since they are no longer resident in the constituencies where they were originally registered," ZESN said in statement on Thursday.

Continued use of the current voters' roll would render the results of any future poll questionable, the electoral body pointed out.

The statement came as the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) prepared to square up for a number of rural and urban council by-elections. Mayoral elections will take place next week in Bulawayo, the country's second largest city.

In terms of Zimbabwe's Electoral Act, voters can only cast their ballots in the constituency where they are registered. Voters also have to undergo a thorough vetting process that requires proof of residence in urban areas, or a signed letter from the ward councillor in rural areas, before they are allowed to cast their ballots.

In Bulawayo, the incumbent mayor and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) candidate, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, said there had been an alarming level of voter apathy during the last two months, while the demolition campaign was being carried out.

"The cleanup operation displaced a lot of people and caused untold suffering to many more indirectly. Those people who managed to return to their old places are too busy reorganising themselves. Despite the displacement and other effects, I am confident of victory," he told IRIN.

In the last mayoral election in 2001, Ndabeni-Ncube got over 60,000 votes, beating the ZANU-PF candidate, George Mlilo, who garnered an estimated 12,000.

A senior official in the Attorney General's office ruled out the possibility of a new voters' roll, saying registration was a long, complicated and costly process, which the government could hardly afford. Calls for a new voters' roll have mounted in the last five years, amid MDC allegations that deceased people and absentee voters formed a large percentage of the roll.

Several cases of alleged electoral fraud arising from 'irregularities' on the voters roll are still pending before the Supreme Court. Zimbabwe has refused to revise its voters' roll, claiming that its voter registration and monitoring systems were among the best in the world.