Hot Seat Interview with Derek Matyszak on the voters roll

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Synopsis: Derek Matyszak a lawyer and leading analyst on the mechanics of Zimbabwe’s elections is guest on the Hot Seat programme with Violet Gonda. What is a biometric voters roll? And if Zimbabwe gets one, what difference will it make? Zimbabwe’s rural voters…will they ever abandon Zanu PF?  Matyszak explains, among other issues, how elections are manipulated, and states the law in the event that the President dies before the 2018 polls?

Violet Gonda: Many election experts question whether Zimbabwe’s voters roll is accurate or whether it has been manipulated. For years the opposition and some election observers have said the voters roll was vastly inaccurate with millions of ghost voters. In the 2013 election the roll was not available, and since then the Zimbabwe electoral commission or ZEC continues to refuse access to the electronic voters’ roll used in 2013. Now the electoral commission says it will start a new polling station based voter registration exercise using biometrics. However skeptics are not convinced this will make any difference. Will this give us a clean voters’ roll? Do people know how this will work? Who stands to gain the most from this process and is it true that the manipulation of the elections depends on who is given this contract to supply the BVR kits and who controls the rural areas? To help us understand this latest electoral reform process, on the Hot Seat programme is Derek Matyszak – a leading analyst on the mechanics of Zimbabwe’s elections. Welcome on the program Derek.

Derek Matyszak: Hi Violet

Violet: The main problem in the last election in 2013 was the Voters’ Roll… but now it seems everything is going to change. Can you tell us about the new Biometrics Voters Roll also known as BVR?

Derek Matyszak: well I don’t think it would be correct Violet to say that everything is going to change.  I think that the 2013 roll, the electronic copy of, which as you say, we’ve never been able to see, is really a masterpiece constructed by the former Registrar General of voters on behalf of ZANU PF. And I think the task which now faces the ZEC, or more correctly, the security sector placements in ZEC is to make sure that the BVR roll is constructed in exactly the same manner as the 2013 roll.

Violet: How bad was the VR, the voters roll, before?

Derek Matyszak: well, the 2013 roll, from the analysis that I have done indicates the main way in which ZANU PF secured their resounding victory in 2013 and that was by the rather simple expedient of packing the 2013 roll with a large number of people they knew would vote for ZANU PF come the elections, and that’s mainly the rural constituencies.  So, even by ZANU PF’s own figures, or the figures that were published in the Herald, we could see that during the intensive voter registration process of 2013, about 4 ZANU PF voters were being put onto the voters roll for every MDC voter that went on to the voters roll, and a million more votes were then cast in the 2013 election than had been in 2008. So in short, the 2013 roll was manipulated to the extent that it was just packed with ZANU PF voters, or people who could be relied upon to vote for ZANU PF in 2013.

Violet: What has changed for the authorities or indeed ZEC, to say that they are going to have this fresh biometric voters roll if the previous voters roll actually worked for the ruling party? Why change now?

Derek Matyszak: There was a lot of pressure for a new voters roll to come in and a lot of and pressure for BVR to be adopted, it’s the general standard for elections, most people are switching to BVR. And if you’ll recall, Mnangagwa actually stated that ZEC approached his Ministry to ask if they could do BVR and after some delay he had given ZEC the go ahead to proceed with BVR. So this was supposed to be an independent Electoral Commission which is deciding on how to do voter registration, but they didn’t go ahead with it until they had been given clearance by Mnangagwa and by the ZANU PF government. And that clearance would not have come if ZANU PF hadn’t thought that they could manufacture a BVR roll which looks pretty much like the 2013 roll – the only difference is that the duplicates and the dead will be removed from the roll.

Violet: Many people will want to know how this will actually work.  Any idea?

Derek Matyszak: Well yes, what will happen is that the biometric voter registration kits will be purchased. The original intention was to purchase about 1500 kits and then to proceed province by province and the biometric data which will be captured will be fingerprinting, and there is special software which  can do finger printing recognition. So basically you have all the finger prints stored in a database and then you ask the software to do a de-duplication exercise and it will go through the national roll and try and pick up where there might be duplicate finger prints.  The system is not 100% effective but what happens is that the duplicates are then identified and then they are physically and visually inspected by the people in control of voter registration to see if they are genuine duplicates and then the second entry would then be removed from the voters roll.

Violet: What about the timeframe because I understand that the registration exercise will take  15 days per province and move to the next province, not just 15 days for the whole country. So what will happen to people who miss this registration window period? Especially for those who study and work outside their voting constituencies? For example if I am from Mutare and I fail to register during those 15 days, will I be able to get another chance?

Derek Matyszak: Yes what will happen is there’ll be 1500 kits that go from province to province but there’ll be kits left within each province and within each district so people, once the registration process has started in that province, people can then come and register on a continuous basis using those kits that have been left behind in the districts.

Violet: How long will this exercise take?

Derek Matyszak: It can be done in the space of 4 – 6 months, that’s exercise has been carried out in other countries, it can be done in the same time span. We still have enough time to do biometric voter registration. The problem is the capacity of ZEC to actually do that and to carry it out.  You need properly trained people who know how to use the equipment, and there is some skepticism that ZEC actually has the physical capacity to undertake this exercise

Violet: I understand that the UNDP was going to pay for the equipment procurement and had drawn up a shortlist of companies but that list was rejected, and the government is now taking over this process. Is it known who will run this exercise and why the government has suddenly changed, or ZEC rather?

Derek Matyszak: We didn’t know who the shortlisted candidates were. I think they’ve got to the stage where 3 candidates had been shortlisted and were then supposed to come and do field demonstrations to demonstrate the equipment to the ZEC.  Unfortunately, because of the security sector placements within ZEC, none of those companies selected by the UNDP’s procurement team were companies that were favoured by government or were companies that ZANU PF would be able to exercise control over. So that’s the reason why those companies were rejected and ZEC decided to take over the procurement process themselves.  As I indicated, the task of the security sector placements within ZEC is to construct a roll for 2018 which looks like the 2013 one and they can’t do that if they don’t have some influence over the company which is supplying the BVR kits.

Violet: There is also speculation the controversial Israeli company NIKUV (which is accused of helping ZANU PF rig the 2013 elections) will be involved. Have you heard anything about this?

Derek Matyszak: I’ve got no information as to whether NIKUV is involved this time around.

Violet: Any idea as to the 3 shortlisted of companies, as we’d heard one of them is Africon?

Derek Matyszak: Yes I had heard that and there are serious concerns about Africon and who actually controls Africon.  I believe Africon has already been contracted out to do some work for government Ministries and departments so obviously the way they have carried out that work has given government confidence to use them once more.

Violet: I understand ZANU PF is implementing its own smart-card based membership drive, to record members, also using biometrics. Any chance that they could use the same system as the one that is being used for the BVR exercise?

Derek Matyszak: Yeah, that does sound a bit conspiratorial but I don’t see why that can’t happen.  A company that has a close relationship to ZANU PF and government I don’t see why that can’t be arranged between the two of them. So I don’t think this fear is fanciful… it’s a genuine concern.

Violet: Who will monitor this registration exercise to make sure the system will not manipulated. Are there any independent monitors outside the ZEC?

Derek Matyszak: Well this is the prime difficulty that we have with the procurement being taken away from the UNDP.  If the UNDP had a company with integrity had been chosen without bias then the company would feel obliged, for example, to release electronic copies of the biometric voter registration rolls, as they come out. We would be able to look at them province by province, be certain that the number of VR kits that were purchased will be the same as the number that has been sent out … and are the same as the ones being used, this kind of thing. Once you’ve got a company being used that has a relationship with ZANU PF that is not an arm’s length relationship, for example, the procurement contract might state that there’s 1500 kits that have been purchased but what if 1700 have been purchased and the other 200 are used for voter registration in areas  that we don’t know about? There’s all these kind of shenanigans that can take place once you’ve got a company which is operating in collaboration with ZANU PF and government.

Violet: Do you think it’s fair that the current shambolic voters roll is still being used for by-elections ?

Derek Matyszak: well that voter’s roll was heavily manipulated so you’ve just bought that manipulation into by-elections.  It is not of huge significance because those by-elections are not being meaningfully contested, other than say, in Norton where it was ZANU PF versus ZANU PF. But in the other constituencies, the opposition has been fledgling political parties that have no realistic chance of picking up more than a couple of hundred votes.  So it’s not really significant. But obviously, it’s completely undesirable to have two voters’ rolls, and it’s against international best practice.

Violet: I read Political Scientist Phillan Zamchiya’s notes the other day, saying that there continues to be a system of political partisan administration to suit the interests of the ZANU PF elite in the same way that it suited the colonial administration of the past. Zamchiya says the opposition in 2018 risks being confined to wading a democratic campaign in the urban areas with limited penetration of the rural sector. Without democratization of partisan customary power, formation of preferences in an election remains limited for the rural folks. Do you agree that a massive rural campaign is a top priority in the run-up to the elections?

Derek Matyszak: Well, one can have this massive campaign in the rural areas, but if you don’t fix the voters roll and you don’t get this massive bias in favour of ZANU PF on the voters roll, then if you don’t sort that out then it’s not going to change much. But the significance of the rural campaigning is really in the fact that it shows if the opposition can get into the rural areas, it sends a message to the rural villages that shows that ZANU PF is not totally in control.  It’s the same thing if MDC, or other opposition parties, manage to get a voice In the electronic media, it again sends a message to the villagers that ZANU PF is not in total control. And remember, if you are a rural voter, you need to vote for the Party you think is going to win, not necessarily the Party you want to win because it’s very important to back the right horse. Because if you vote for the wrong party there are severe negative repercussions that going to be visited on you, and one of the things ZANU PF does, is it keeps its election promises in that regard.

Violet: Do you know what the percentage is of the voting public and in which Constituencies are the majority voters, just in a nutshell

Derek Matyszak: The rural vote is about 75% to 25% urban, that’s people on the voters roll. As far as the census is concerned there are about 4.2 million people in rural areas – adult voting population. If I remember correctly, about 1.8 in urban areas and then you’ve got another almost 700 000 that are in mixed constituencies with urban and rural, say for example, a constituency like Norton, most of the wards there are urban wards, but it’s also got 3 rural wards attached to it. So you have some constituencies that are mixtures of urban and rural

Violet: So, how many rural constituencies are there in total, in the 210 parliamentary seats and how significant is this?

Derek Matyszak: I couldn’t tell you by constituency but I can tell you simply by numbers because I was looking at that for the purposes of the Presidential election rather than the House of Assembly, the National Assembly.

Violet: Ok. And if you are saying the rural vote is absolutely crucial and that the vote is subject to manipulation. How much work is the opposition putting to sensitise the rural folk, if we know that ZANU PF has already started with the mobilization, mobilizing it’s supporters to register.

Derek Matyszak: The importance for the opposition is actually is to show a presence in those areas because that indicates that ZANU PF is not in total control.  Unfortunately, to do that you need to have a voice other than ZANU PF in the electronic media and of course, we have seen ZANU PF are determined to make sure that only a ZANU PF voice gets heard on the electronic media.  For example, I heard that in relation to community radio stations, ZANU PF is proposing that only rural areas will have community radio stations and the community radio station Boards will be headed by a Traditional Leader.  Obviously this is to ensure that only a ZANU PF voice gets heard in the rural areas.  This is of crucial importance. And then also of course in 2013 there were various areas, places like Muzarabani etc which were just declared no-go areas for MDC, they can’t actually hold a rally in these areas

Violet: So, besides the vote buying and the intimidation are you able to briefly outline the other areas that the 2013 election was manipulated to ensure a ZANU PF victory, because the opposition has always blamed ZANU PF for vote rigging. Are there any other clear examples that show how ZANU PF actually rigged?

Derek Matyszak: Yes, yes, very clear examples. The main modus operandi which applied across the country was simply to pack the voters roll with ZANU PF supporters, but in some areas they couldn’t do that. For instance, in Mount Pleasant which is one of the constituencies we knew, even before the election, that it was one of the constituencies they wanted to take from the MDC. But, they couldn’t pack Mount Pleasant with ZANU PF voters because there aren’t enough ZANU PF voters in Mount Pleasant constituency, it’s the MDC stronghold. So what did they do? Well, in Mount Pleasant in 2013 there were over 9000 new voters added to the Mount Pleasant constituency with security sector addresses and about 4000 of those were brought in from different constituencies. A lot of them brought in from places like Budiriro etc. So in other words what  ZANU PF did, they stuffed that constituency with police officers who didn’t live in the constituency, but Mudede on instruction from Chihuri presumably and the security sector, registered police officers in Mount Pleasant who don’t live there, and that is how MDC lost the Mount Pleasant seat, which is almost inconceivable in a free and fair election.

Violet: On the other hand ZANU PF could not have rigged in all the constituencies countrywide.  Do you agree that ZANU PF could not have rigged in all those constituencies and that in 2013, the election was also lost because of a split vote between the two MDC’s?

Derek Matyszak: Yes. I think, I can’t remember the exact number, but something like 13 seats were lost because of splitting the vote. But the election was rigged countrywide to the extent that the voters roll was manipulated in every constituency to make sure that a majority of voters on the voters roll were people who would vote for ZANU PF. I won’t call them ZANU PF supporters, but people who could be depended on to vote for ZANU PF. And that happened nationwide but particularly in the rural areas. So we saw that registration in 2013, in the urban areas, registering as few as 20 to 30 voters a day whereas in the rural constituencies several hundred people were being put on the voters roll per day. That’s how the 2013 election was lost for the MDC and won for ZANU PF.

Violet: But let’s face it. Mugabe still has a lot of support in the country.


Derek Matyszak: He does but it is difficult to gauge how much of that is genuine support and how much those votes for ZANU PF and Mugabe are done out of expediency. If you are a rural voter, as I said, you get excluded from food aid lists, you run the risk of your hut being burnt down, you run the risk of being driven out of the village if you don’t vote correctly. That’s why I say that the people that were packed onto the voters roll are not necessarily ZANU PF supporters, but people who could be depended upon to vote for ZANU PF when the election came round, out of fear, out of expediency, whatever.  Some of them of course out of genuine support, but a large number of them, out of expediency. This is the reason Violet why there were so many Assisted Votes in 2013. To a large extent those Assisted Votes were out of fear. It wasn’t that people were unable to vote,  people would  actually go and seek out ZANU PF youths and say ‘come and watch me vote’ and then if some people voted for MDC you would know that I am not the one because you saw me vote.  So the Assisted Votes was a security against post election violence.


Violet: So since trust and confidence seems to be limited, do you see new voters going to register?


Derek Matyszak: Well I presume in the BVR process, people will go and register but I fear once again that process will be manipulated in favour of bias against urban voters for the elections. So if for example, you add together Harare province and the Matabeleland Province, you get about 2 million 200 000 voters. If you add together all the Mashonaland Provinces, you get an equivalent number of voters, so these are the dynamics. Those are the ZANU PF stronghold provinces and those are the MDC stronghold provinces and then the swing comes between Manicaland, the Midlands and Masvingo, so there might be registration bias in relation to those dynamics.


Violet: So,  is there a way forward then? What will it take just to have free and fair elections? 

Derek Matyszak: (laughs) I don’t know Violet, a miracle? This is why people are looking at alternatives like an National Transitional Authority etc because so long as ZANU PF controls the institutions of state, it is very difficult to have a free and fair election.

Violet: You laughed just now and said ‘maybe a miracle’, but I am sure you heard the First Lady this week saying Mugabe is going to rule from the grave. Mugabe is not getting any younger, he looks frail, and many people expressed concern when they saw video footage of the President failing to even plant a tree.  As a lawyer, what are the legal provisions if (interrupted)….

Derek Matyszak: (Laughs) Violet, to stand as a candidate you need to be a registered voter, and with biometric voter registration you need to put your fingerprint there and I’m afraid the fingerprints of the deceased deteriorate rapidly and won’t be picked up by the machine!

Violet: (laughing) So under the current electoral reforms with the BVR, what Grace Mugabe is saying won’t work because dead people cannot register to vote…

Derek Matyszak: That’s one of the positives of the biometric voters registration in the sense that we will have a cleaner voter’s roll and the deceased will be removed from the voters roll. There’s about 2 million of those on the voters roll.

Violet: There are currently 2 million ghost voters on the voters roll?

Derek Matyszak: That’s my estimate, yes.

Violet:  What are the legal provisions in place right now, in the Constitution, in the event that the President dies?

Derek Matyszak: Yes I don’t know why people are still confused about what happens in the event that the President should leave us, because it’s been discussed quite frequently. But the provision is simply that  whoever was last Acting President in the President’s absence, that person will then become Acting President once again but only for a 90 day period. And in that 90 day period ZANU PF needs to select a nominee to replace the President who will then serve out the remaining  term of office.

Violet:  What does the law say if the President is confined to his sick bed and is no longer able to perform his duties by the time we have elections.

Derek Matyszak: Well what then happens, this is the provisions relating to the incapacity of the President in the Constitution, so what you then need is 50% of both Houses of Parliament, a joint committee to investigate the President’s health, to investigate whether he is capable of performing his duties. They then report to Parliament and Parliament has to vote by a two thirds majority that the President should be removed from office.  So you need that two thirds majority in the House of Parliament to remove the President on the basis of incapacity.  So that requires a substantial rebellion amongst ZANU PF MPs for that vote to be achieved.

Violet: And a final word

Derek Matyszak: I’m sorry to sound so negative about it all but there’s a lot of work to be done if Zimbabwe is going to have free and fair elections in 2018, the current terrain does not look promising.

Violet: But the opposition and the NGOs should do their part. At least start voter registration awareness campaign. ZANU PF has already started as we saw with the First Lady’s rally in Buhera. Would you agree with that?

Derek Matyszak: Yes but more importantly Violet, if you remember what happened in 2013, the MDC did mobilize their people to go and register to vote but Mudede’s office played gatekeeper to make sure that these people couldn’t get on the voters roll. These people stood in queues for days trying to register and some were still unsuccessful. So what the opposition parties and the NGO’s need to be doing is to watch this BVR process like a hawk and if there looks like there’s an attempt to manipulate the BVR roll and to play gatekeeper to ensure that MDC people and opposition people don’t get on to the roll, to immediately start protesting the process and to expose what’s going on and to refuse to participate in it.

Violet: Is it known when the exercise, the registration exercise will actually start?  

Derek Matyszak: They were saying that the BVR process would start in April, it maybe that confusion now around the procurement process is going to delay that process a little more.

Violet: That was Derek Matyszak speaking to us on the programme Hotseat.

To contact the journalist email or follow on twitter @violetgonda
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