Ndamu Sandu/Godfrey Marawanyika
THE Electoral Act and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act militate against Sadc principles and guidelines on the holding of democratic elections, the Zi
mbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) has said.
In a damning report, Zesn said although the two pieces of legislation were crafted to aid the holding of democratic elections, this was not borne out by facts on the ground.
The document, titled: “The Sadc Electoral Principles and Guidelines and Zimbabwe’s New Electoral Legislation”, said Zimbabwe was still short on adhering to the Sadc barometers for free and fair elections.
The Sadc guidelines compel member states to safeguard human and civil liberties — freedom of movement, assembly, association and expression — of all their citizens during the electoral processes.
“There is little in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act or the Electoral Act to ensure an environment in which human and civil rights are fully enjoyed. The functions of the Electoral Commission are confined to registering voters, keeping voters’ rolls, providing voter education and conducting elections,” Zesn said.
Zesn said the commission had no role whatever in ensuring respect for fundamental human rights such as freedom of association and expression, “which are essential to the holding of free and fair elections”.
The nearest the Act comes to dealing with the general electoral environment is in Section 3 which sets out principles on which elections must be held, Zesn says.
“The section states that all citizens have the right to stand for office, to vote, to join political parties and to participate in peaceful political activities, and that all political parties have the right to put up candidates, to campaign freely within the law, and to have ‘reasonable access to the media’,” Zesn said.
Zesn said the Act confined itself to a statement of those principles and did nothing to ensure their implementation.
“The lack of some means to enforce the principles set out in Section 3 of the Electoral Act is a flaw in the legislation,” Zesn said.
“The freedoms specifically mentioned in the Sadc principles — freedom of
assembly, association and expression and political tolerance — are not fully respected in Zimbabwe,” Zesn said.
Zesn said legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) had been used to stifle freedom of the press. It said Posa gave the police “wide powers to control public meetings and demonstrations”.
It said Sections 38 and 103 of the Electoral Act say that nomination of candidates for parliamentary and presidential elections must take place between 14 and 21 days after the publication of the proclamation calling the election, and polling must take place between 35 and 66 days after the proclamation, which was inadequate.
“The minimum period of 35 days may well be adequate for a by-election held in a single constituency, but it would probably not allow enough time for a general election or a presidential to be held properly,” Zesn said.
Parliamentary polls are set to take place on March 31.
Zesn said the Sadc Parliamentary Forum’s Norms and Standards spelt a period of between three and four months between the announcement of a parliamentary general election and polling, to give sufficient time for the Electoral Commission to prepare for the election and to demonstrate fair play.
“If the forthcoming general election is to be held in March, as has been proposed by government, there will be only fifty days for it to be held between the date on which parliament resumes sitting (February 8) and the end of March,” Zesn said.
Zesn said the president was still fixing the dates for the elections whilst the Sadc Parliamentary Forum’s norms state that parliament should be involved in the fixing of the election dates.
It said there was need for impartial electoral bodies to run elections. Zesn said it was not clear how the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the Electoral Supervisory Commission would operate and “which commission has the greater authority”.
The staffing of the two commissions, Zesn said, was a cause for concern as under the Electoral Act both commissions are empowered to take on secondment state employees including members of the defence forces, the police forces and prison services as well as civil servants.
Another concern raised by Zesn was that the ministry was now approving all statutory instruments made by the Electoral Commission under the Electoral Act before they were promulgated.
“In other words the commission has no independent powers to control elections through the making of regulations and other statutory instruments,” Zesn said.
Zesn said the provisions regarding election observers and monitors contained in the Electoral Act were unsatisfactory.
According to the Act, observers will have to be accredited by a committee dominated by nominees of various government ministries.
“There is no provision for the monitoring of elections by representatives of non-governmental organisations, and it seems unlikely that representatives of local NGOs will be accredited as observers in time,” it said.
Zesn said that Sadc must be invited to send a mission at least 90 days before polling day as part of the requirements of the principles.
“If the forthcoming general election is to be held in March, there will not be enough time to give Sadc the 90 days’ notice to send an observer mission, as required in the principles and guidelines,” Zesn said.