HARARE - Frustration is mounting in Zimbabwe amid long lines at voter registration centers and accusations that the electoral commission is not ready. The High Court will hear a petition from the opposition Thursday to suspend the process until the electoral commission has received the rest of the registration equipment.
Zimbabwe’s capital has one registration center to serve an estimated two million potential voters. People told VOA they have waited as long as five hours before being served.
To register, each person must present identification and then have his or her photo taken and fingerprints scanned.
“The process is tiresome. It is too long. One machine. I think it is not fair. I think they should increase the number of machines,” said a 33-year-old man who requested VOA not to use his name.
The center ran out stationary Wednesday leading to more frustration. One man in line asked to be identified only by his first name, Maxwell.
“The process is stressfully and painfully slow," he said. "It looks like I will be here until they close because it is taking them long to register potential voters. I think they are being deliberately slow to frustrate people so that they go back home without having registered.”
Voter registration opened last week. The goal is to create the country’s first biometric voter registry before the 2018 elections.
Electoral commission head Rita Makarau has rejected calls from the opposition to halt the four-month exercise.
“We are ready for this exercise. We are ready financially. We have the resources," she said. "Our people have been trained how to operate the kits and are ready to register all Zimbabweans.”
The head of the independent election watchdog Election Resource Center, Tawanda Chimhini, says the Electoral Commission, known by its acronym ZEC, must address the long queues his staff are seeing throughout the country.
“Accessibility of the process has been quite limited," said Chimhini. "We definitely need to engage ZEC around how they can make more locations available for the public to access these locations. I think the demand is there, and ZEC must be seen to be responding for more centers. The kits to set up more centers are available. Out of the 400 kits they have received, they have only deployed 63. So certainly there is room for ZEC to do more around this.”
The first person in line to register when the exercise opened September 14 was President Robert Mugabe.
“I therefore urge all eligible Zimbabweans to go and register in their numbers," he said. "With this few remarks, I wish to declare the biometric voter registration exercise officially launched and wish the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission the best.”
Not two hours later, the opposition had filed its court petition to halt the process.
"There are no servers to store information which is going to come from this exercise, said Douglas Mwonzora, the secretary-general of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. "We had agreed with ZEC that we will be informed of the procurement of the servers, just like the voter registration kits, through a transparent system. The servers have not been advertised for tender and have not been procured. We cannot proceed with a process when we do not know where the information is going to kept."
The High Court is expected to convene Thursday to hear the opposition petition.