CITIES, towns, municipalities, and villages in the country have been decorated with political parties’ flags and posters containing photos of candidates, an indication that preparations for the October 28, 2020 are at top gear.
Election campaign rallies through public meetings, doorto- door, and forums involving candidates, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), media and electoral bodies, are other indicators for the much-awaited elections being organized under the axiom ‘No one should be left behind.”
‘People With Disabilities (PWDs)’ are among voters not to be left behind and the young PWDs voting for the first time in their life are eagerly waiting for the exercise. “I am happy, I registered as a voter, but still worried whether I will be able to fulfil my dream because I need someone to help me vote,” said the blind 19-year-old Khadija Omar.
‘People With Disabilities (PWDs)’ are one of the vulnerable groups that are being encouraged and prepared to vote in the elections that will see 17 candidates vie for Zanzibar Presidency and 15 aspirants contest for union presidency, and that both the ZEC and the National Electoral Commission (NEC) say voting environment have been improved for all.
At a meeting with stakeholders in elections, NEC officers led by Commissioner Ms Asina Omar said that there has been a wide public awareness about importance of voting, “NEC is prepared to ensure all registered voters including people with disabilities exercise their democratic right.”
The Assistant Head of Information and voters’ education-NEC Mr Cosmas Mwaisombwa also told stakeholders [Religious leaders, people with disabilities, Youths, and women] that voting materials including tactile ballot papers will be used for the visually impaired voters.
Mr Mwaisomba said that there will be no queue for people with disabilities, elderly, and breastfeeding mothers, and that voting environment has been improved this year, “We call on all voters to turn-up to vote on October 28, 2020.”
Mr Thabit Idarous Faina- Director of ZEC says in the past elections PWDs voted without queueing, and in this year’s elections ‘People With Disabilities’ will vote peacefully, “They should not be worried, environment for voting will be improved in all polling centres.”
Mr Adil Mohamed Ali- Coordinator, Zanzibar National Association of the Blind (ZANAB) commends the electoral bodies for the ongoing efforts to overcome challenges facing PWDs in elections.
“ZEC and NEC have been taking different measures to remove some obstacles in elections for people with disability, but there is still more to be done. The best way to identify challenges facing us is through research,” he said.
Mr Ali says that although they use tactile ballots papers, in the past election many blind people failed to use because the ballots were made below standards, “It is important to engage knowledgeable people about equipment required by PWDs before purchase or manufacturing to minimize loss.”
He said given that every type of disability has its categorical requirements; ZEC in collaboration with experts of disability issues should improve the disability needs by mapping in order to have them ready by the time of general elections.
He also urged leaders of political parties to motivate PWDs to participate in election processes by allocating special seats, along with changing mind set of electorates to see that PWDs deserve all political rights in democracy and not a favour.
Mr Adil emphasizes that, election information update; civic and voter’s education, improvement of knowledge on disability among election officials, knowledge on how to use the tactile ballot folder conveniently, are some of the key issues which must be addressed before voting Day.
Other challenges that need to be addressed include: presiding officers not being well versed with techniques for supporting PWDs, Voting kiosks not suitable for voters’ mobility (mainly for wheelchair users, users of armpit crutches, those with short stature and physical environment).
Election campaigns conducted in an unfriendly manner, Inadequacy of special equipment (like hearing aid), PWDs not taken into account by some local authorities, inadequacy of civic and voters’ education and limited chances for a PWD to be nominated by his/her party.
Lack of sign language interpretation, Tactile ballot papers not available in some polling stations, PWDs have no special constituency of their own, Civic and Voter’s Education not given in time, and sign language interpretation services was inadequate, are other challenges hampering political participation of people with disabilities.
Mr Ali thanked MyRight- Tanzania ( the disability organisation working on various issues to do with creating better conditions for persons with disabilities to integrate with and be included in society) for training PWDs to participate in elections.
State Minister (responsible for PWDs) Mr Mohamed Aboud Mohamed says PWDs have the right in all processes of elections from registration as voters to voting, and that the government is asking responsible bodies including ZEC and NEC to ensure those with special needs exercise their democratic rights.
PWDs are recognized in the Zanzibar constitution of 1984, and the UN convention of Rights of Persons with disabilities, the Isles has other laws and regulations like the ‘Persons with disabilities (right and Privileges) Act, 2006; that provides political participation of the special group.
Section 12 of the Zanzibar election law No.4/2018; and it is also mentioned in some political parties election manifestos, like in that of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) election manifesto (section 94, page 145), which states that people with disabilities have the rights to participate in elections.
The united Republic of Tanzania (Zanzibar and Mainland) being a member of the United Nations have also ratified key international human rights treaties including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that promotes inter alia the participation and inclusion of PWDs in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural spheres with equal opportunities.
The opportunity to enjoy political rights on an equal basis directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for PWDs to vote and be elected are underscored by various articles of the CRPD.
Localized laws states “Every person” with disability who has attained the age of eighteen years and above shall be entitled to enjoy and exercise political rights and opportunity as any other citizen without any form of discrimination” in terms of voting, holding a public office and otherwise participate in the political rights and opportunities as any other citizen without any form of discrimination.”
The Department for People with Disability- Zanzibar was established in 2008 to be responsible to their affairs, and in 2012 the government established the ‘People with Disability Fund’ with the aim of streamlining the efforts to empower them economically.