SADC leaders who met in Mauritius from August 16-17 for their annual summit had an opportunity to deepen democracy across the region by establishing consensus on a broad set of guidelines and principles for democratic elections.
If this happens it would represent a significant landmark in the broader process of the region’s democratic transition.
The MDC has been deeply encouraged by the level of collective political will that appears to be driving the current regional deliberations on electoral benchmarks. We are nonetheless concerned that as not all Sadc members, in particular Zimbabwe, share this vision for improved democratic governance, any protocol on electoral standards that is eventually agreed risks being negatively diluted.
We urge the progressive majority among Sadc leaders to firmly set out the criteria for free and fair elections based on the premise that an election is a process, not an event and not to allow the parameters of the debate to be deliberately narrowed by leaders keen to manipulate the current deliberations to consolidate their incumbency.
Within this context, Sadc leaders need to be cognisant of the short-comings of the electoral reforms recently tabled by the Zimbabwe government; reforms which President Mugabe disingenuously claims will level the playing field for elections.
The proposals merely tinker at the edges of what is needed. The appointments procedure for the proposed electoral commission is not safeguarded from manipulation by the president and the ruling party while the other reforms fail to address the fundamental issue of opening up political space, an essential prerequisite for genuine democratic elections.
We therefore request that Sadc leaders advise President Mugabe that his reforms are woefully inadequate and totally out of step with regional thinking on electoral standards.
Moreover, Sadc leaders should seek to ensure that President Mugabe leaves the summit with the clear message that unless he implements comprehensive political and electoral reforms that are capable of harnessing acceptable levels of transparency and fairness in Zimbabwe’s electoral process, Sadc will not entertain his claims that next year’s parliamentary elections will be free and fair.
Paul Themba Nyathi,
MDC secretary for Information and Publicity.