By Tichaona Sibanda
09 July 2012
For the first time in Zimbabwe’s history the new constitution will allow dual citizenship, a situation that could be capitalized on by people living in the Diaspora, to push for their right to vote in the next polls.
Three years ago the Supreme Court barred the country’s exiled community from voting in the general election because of an Electoral Act that prohibited such a move.
At the time a group of Zimbabwean exiles, the Diaspora Vote Action Group, had petitioned the Supreme Court asking it to reverse a government policy that barred exiles from casting their votes.
Under the country’s electoral laws only citizens outside their home constituencies on official national duty can cast postal votes, a requirement critics say has disenfranchised more than three million Zimbabweans living abroad.
But a chapter in the new constitution to be released soon stipulates that every Zimbabwean citizen by birth should retain his or her citizenship, even if that person acquires foreign citizenship.
But constitutional law expert Dr Alex Magaisa explained that Zimbabweans in the Diaspora would only be able to vote if the Electoral Act is amended to conform to the new supreme law of the country.
‘This is why the Supreme Court voted against allowing people in the Diaspora to vote because it was not contained in the constitution of Zimbabwe. But now the new charter will allow dual citizenship and as such, the electoral laws need to be amended to conform to the new law,’ Magaisa said.
MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said a new Electoral Bill will be tabled in parliament and legislators from both sides will be able to debate it and recommend changes to the Act.
‘As a party we will push for changes in the Electoral Act to allow Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to vote. By allowing dual citizenship, what that means is that if you are Zimbabwean by birth and have acquired British citizenship, you will still have the same rights as people who are permanently based in Zimbabwe.
‘But as we speak, there are electoral laws that stop people in exile from voting. You will get laws that say you must be domiciled or resident in Zimbabwe for a year before voting, and must provide proof of residence when registering to vote,’ Mwonzora added.
Dewa Mavhinga, a lawyer and pro-democracy activist, waded in and said the Diaspora participation in the next election is still murky and what was needed was clarification from the government on the process of putting in place a mechanism for logistics and registration of voters.
‘A good example is that of prisoners, who are citizens but do not have the right to vote, so are those under 18years. So the right to vote is not equal to citizenship. Laws have to be amended,’ Mavhinga said.