August 14, 2009

Zanzibar: Voter Registration Flawed

Active ImageThe European Union and the United States expressed concern over flawed voter registration for 2010 General elections in Zanziabar. The EU called for the response of immediate action.

 

Below is an article issued by The Citizen

The European Union and the United States yesterday [13 August 2009] expressed concern over what they described as flawed voter registration in Zanzibar in preparation for next year's [2010] General Election, and called for the shortcomings to be immediately rectified.

In a joint statement issued in Dar es Salaam, the representatives of the major donor countries, which fund the national Budget by over 34 per cent, said they were "seriously concerned about what appears to be flawed elements in the voter registration process in Zanzibar."

But in response last evening, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe said that though he had not received the envoys statement, they were free to air their views and advice on the issue.

He said the Government was equally concerned about the reports on voter registration problems in Zanzibar, but would ensure that all eligible people are registered as voters.

Mr Membe said that due to the seriousness of the issue, it could come up for discussion when the top organs of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) meet in Dodoma from today [14 August 2009].

However, the diplomats' call would appear to vindicate claims by the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) of deliberately orchestrated sabotage, especially in Pemba, which is the party's stronghold, since the exercise started two weeks ago.

There have been clashes and protests, particularly in Pemba, between CUF supporters and security personnel, forcing the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) registration officials to call off the exercise in some areas.

The EU heads of mission Tanzania signed the joint donors' statement. They include the ambassadors of Belgium, Denmark, the European Commission Delegation, Finland, France, Germany Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, which currently holds the rotating presidency, and the United Kingdom.

Other signatories were the ambassadors in Dar es Salaam of Canada, Japan, Norway, and the United States.

CUF accuses the authorities of barring eligible would-be voters from being registered in order to lock them out of next year's elections [2010] and weaken the opposition party.

Last Friday [7 August], the party's secretary general, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, accused the Union Government of fomenting the chaos to mess up the registration of voters.

He alleged a plot by the authorities in Zanzibar to lock CUF supporters, particularly from Pemba Island, out of next year's General Election [2010]. He said this was going on despite an assurance by Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume that all eligible voters would be registered.

The statement released through the European Union office in Dar es Salaam appeared to confirm CUF's claims.

"The Heads of Mission expect the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania and the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to rectify the shortcomings in the voter registration process,"the statement read in part.

The envoys said the freedom to vote was a fundamental democratic right and that it was the responsibility of the government to ensure all the eligible people participate in the forthcoming elections.

Voter registration in Pemba has been marred by chaos from the start. It took a new turn early last week [3 August 2009] when police opened fire, injuring two protesting supporters of the opposition party.

The incident forced ZEC officials to suspend the registration of voters in Ole constituency.

In his statement, Maalim Seif alleged that thousands of CUF supporters had been turned away from voter registration centres for allegedly not having Zanzibar identity cards. The irony, he added, was that the supporters could not acquire IDs because local leaders had denied them application forms.

Maalim Seif, who unsuccessfully vied for presidency in 2005, also charged that IDs had been issued to ineligible Zanzibaris such as those with permanent residence in Tanzania Mainland, so they could vote for CCM.

Last Thursday [6 August 2009], chaos broke out in Unguja, when more than 300 residents of South A district besieged the ID registration office, locking the staff inside.

They invaded the office in the Gamba suburb, demanding ID application forms, but the officials turned them down. One of the protestors, Mr Faki Ali, said he had filled in a form and handed it to the Sheha (local leaders) but was never issued with an ID.

There were also reports that bombs had been planted under bridges in Pemba, and that two CUF offices torched in the voter registration chaos. This was after government officials in Pemba said that two local leaders responsible for issuing ID application forms had been attacked.

In their statement, the EU heads of mission said they were "specifically concerned about reports that many Tanzanians in Pemba are facing obstacles obtaining IDs, which have became the principal criterion for voter registration in Zanzibar."

The donors also criticised the interference in the issuance of Zanzibar IDs.

They called for transparent registration to ensure that no eligible Tanzanians, including Zanzibaris, are denied the right to vote in the 2010 elections.

The donors also urged political parties and other groups to refrain from any violence and use peaceful means to express their differences.

In June [2009], the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and donors, including Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the European Commission gave a donation of $23 million (Sh30.3 billion) to fund preparations for next year's elections [2010].

The support was pegged on the on-going national efforts to plan and hold free and fair elections.

The Elections Support Project 2010 is meant for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the ZEC and will continue until after the elections expected to be held in October next year [2010].

UN resident coordinator Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said at the signing ceremony that the project would cater for the technical needs in organizing the elections, including voter registration and education, and coordinating election observers and communications.

He said the main goal was to further strengthen capacity to hold free, fair and credible elections by strengthening the NEC and ZEC and engaging national stakeholders such as the political parties, the media and civil society actors.

The project will be managed directly by the UNDP, with the funds coming from the UN agency and other donors.