Friday, May 18, 2018

Veritas seeks right to conduct voter education

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INDEPENDENT parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, has approached the High Court challenging part of the Electoral Act which gives the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and political parties the sole right to conduct voter education.
BY CHARLES LAITON
Through its director, Valerie Ingham-Thorpe, Veritas filed the court application in December last year and the matter could not be decided on merit after Zec filed an opposing affidavit claiming Veritas had approached the court using the wrong name.
However, Veritas has since filed another court application seeking to amend the challenged name.
“The applicant (Veritas) has expertise in electoral issues and regularly releases information on the subject and would like to conduct a programme of voter education which is responsive to topical electoral issues as they emerge,” Ingham-Thorpe said.
“This is an application for a declaratory order and ancillary relief pertaining to the provisions of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13) which imposes restrictions on the conduction of voter education by persons other than the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and political parties.”
Ingham-Thorpe further said she had been compelled to file the court application because she feared for her organisation’s workers who faced potential imprisonment if found guilty of providing voter education.
“The applicant’s employees face potential imprisonment if found guilty of violating the impugned provisions. This threat causes unnecessary and unconstitutional chilling effect on the work of the applicant,” she said.
According to Veritas, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi and the Attorney-General (AG), Advocate Prince Machaya, were not opposed to the application except the electoral body itself.
“Only the second respondent (Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister), can oppose the application, since the minister is charged with the administration of the Electoral Act in terms of section 4 of the same,” she said.
“The second respondent has not opposed the application. By failing to respond the minister has by operation of law, admitted that indeed the impugned provisions unjustifiably limit fundamental rights, as averred by the applicant in its founding affidavit. As such, the provisions are inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, invalid.”
Ingham-Thorpe further said Zec’s “position is to abide by the decision of the court and accordingly cannot oppose the application”……adding “Similarly, the third respondent (AG) has also not opposed the application…..on this basis alone, it is submitted that the court is justified in granting the relief sought by striking down the offending provisions”.
The matter is yet to be set down for hearing.