ARARE – The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has come under fire after it postponed, without explanation, a voter registration blitz that had been slated to start on December 6.

A leaked ZEC internal memorandum said the biometric voter registration exercise “was scheduled to a later date to be advised in due course.”

No reasons were provided.

Now political parties and election watchers are accusing ZEC, whose independence has been questioned, of voter suppression.

Election Resource Centre (ERC) programmes manager Solomon Bobosibunu said they had noted the postponement with “dismay.”

The voter registration outreach would have “addressed under-registration and afforded new voters who have turned 18 a chance to register” as Zimbabwe counts down to elections in 2023, Bobosibunu said.

He added: “Voter registration is arguably one of the most important pre-election activities, as voter registration ensures equitable participation in elections, enhances voter turnout, and impacts on the delimitation of constituency boundaries.

“The importance of voter registration ahead of the delimitation process cannot be overstated as a true representative democracy will only be achieved through equitable representation. The voter registration blitz was important, particularly for engaging first-time voters and under-registered areas ahead of delimitation.”

Voter registration remains open at ZEC offices countrywide, but they are largely inaccessible for many due to transport costs. The ZEC outreach was expected to see teams fan out across the country at polling station level to register new voters.

The main opposition MDC Alliance said: “vOETER  to register voters.

“No reasons have been given for the failure to conduct the voter registration blitz. Voter suppression must fall.”

ZEC is set to conduct a delimitation exercise next year, which could see constituency boundaries redrawn.

The electoral body recently announced that three of Bulawayo’s 12 constituencies, an MDC Alliance stronghold, could be lost during delimitation due to low numbers of registered voters.

A consortium of 25 civil society organisations in Matabeleland last week launched the “EkhayaVote2023 to register new voters and prevent the loss of constituencies.

ZEC has faced persistent allegations of bias towards the ruling Zanu PF party, amid claims that retired soldiers in its secretariat are at the forefront of manipulating processes to tilt the scales in Zanu PF’s favour.

In March last year ZEC suspended by-elections citing the Covid-19 global pandemic. Vice president Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as health minister, subsequently amended the public health regulations to indefinitely suspend by-elections.

Critics however argue that the pandemic had been weaponised by the Zanu PF government to frustrate democratic processes, pointing to successful elections held in regional countries including Zambia and South Africa in the last few months.

“With murmurs of a fourth Covid-19 wave after the festive period, the postponement of the December voter registration blitz is a missed opportunity for ZEC,” said Bobosibunu.