Insufficient provision for elderly and infirm voters
Wednesday 31 August 2005
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ZIMBABWE: Insufficient provision for elderly and infirm voters

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Ill voters may not be able to cast their ballots on 31 March

HARARE, 29 March (PLUSNEWS) - NGOs have lamented the lack of special arrangements for elderly and infirm voters ahead of Zimbabwe's legislative elections on 31 March.

Mary Madya, 25, a widow from Mufakose suburb in the capital, Harare, is one of many eligible voters living with AIDS who will be unable to vote on polling day. Eight months ago she was able to register as a voter, but after prolonged hospitalisation she is now bedridden and frail.

"I believe that my vote could make the difference. I was so happy when I voted in the 2000 parliamentary elections and the 2002 presidential elections, because it is my democratic right to choose a political leader of my own choice.

"But things have suddenly moved for the worse [for me] - even though I registered as a voter with the hope of casting my ballot this time around, I cannot do so because I can hardly walk now," Madya told PlusNews.

According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, 5.7 million Zimbabweans have registered to vote in the forthcoming election. Experts have been reported as claiming that more than a million adults living with AIDS may not be able to cast their ballots.

Believe Dliwayo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe Activists on HIV and AIDS (ZAHA), told PlusNews it was "obvious" even in the absence of a full study, that "a significant portion of the voting population", weakened by HIV/AIDS, would not be able to get to polling stations.

"Statistics show that about a quarter of Zimbabweans live with HIV/AIDS. A good part of this figure is people whose ability to engage in normal activities is greatly compromised," Dliwayo commented. "They include those who suffer opportunistic infections and ... it is safe to say participating in such things as voting is difficult for them."

Rindai Chipfunde, national coordinator of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), told PlusNews that the authorities had made "no provision for sick people, neither do we have polling stations located at hospitals or even at old-age homes - there's no provision for that".

"In Namibia there were polling stations at hospitals and old-age homes; in South Africa provision was made for special votes, with officials even going to [elderly and infirm] people's homes. The problem, of course, is knowing where those people reside; it happens in South Africa, but it requires adequate preparation," Chipfunde said.

She said ZESN would continue "lobbying for reforms, like brail materials for the blind". Although assisted voters could go to the polls, they had to cast their ballots in the presence of a police officer and a presiding officer. Chipfunde said this arrangement was unsatisfactory as it could add an element of intimidation to the voting process.

Meanwhile, Madya's 55-year-old mother, Edeline Moyo, also a registered voter, doubted she would be able to stand in the queue to vote on election day.

"Like my daughter, I cherish my vote, having gone to the polls since independence in 1980. But I doubt if I will be able to go and vote now because of the burden that is before me - Mary needs constant attention and, unfortunately, there is no one to help me look after her. All my other daughters are married and are living with their families outside Harare. Besides, I also have to fend for my daughter's two children, who moved in with their mother when their father died," Moyo told PlusNews.

"I was expecting those who are contesting in the elections to say something about AIDS, and how best to cater for the ill, but I have not heard anything like that. All their campaign speeches are about different things, and this discourages some of us from voting, as we know the pain of living with the sick," she remarked.

David Chimhini, director of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust, questioned why the government had not made provision for polling stations to be set up at hospitals and clinics, as was done during a by-election last year, because sick rural voters were more likely to be disenfranchised than sick urban voters.


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