THE Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), a network of 30 non-governmental organisations promoting democratic elections in Zimbabwe, has noted pronouncements by senior politicians on the holding of elections in 2011.
These calls for elections come amid the constitutional reform process which has the potential to alter Zimbabwe’s political landscape. These developments have given Zesn the impetus to call for minimum conditions for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
There is need for concerted efforts to address a number of outstanding issues that have a bearing on the conduct of democratic elections. Zesn urges all Zimbabweans and key stakeholders to start not only preparing for elections, but to also call for critical reforms now.
The signing of the unity government seemed to provide space for reforms yet substantive reforms have not been realised. Zesn is of the view that there are basic issues that need to be addressed if Zimbabwe is to have a free and fair election
The following is a summary of issues that the government, civil society and Zimbabweans need to take cognisance of if we are to have democratic elections.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission:
Zesn has continually expressed concern about the running of elections by Zimbabwe’s election management body. The capacity of the ZEC to efficiently and effectively run elections has been questioned.
Over the years, civic society and political parties have queried the independence of the ZEC as it has consistently failed to be accountable to the electorate. Previous experience has shown that ZEC does not have adequate human and financial resources to efficiently and effectively run elections.
The recent appointment of the chair of the commission, Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, is a welcome development but Zesn is concerned about the indications that he will be based in Namibia. This is a disturbing issue as Zimbabwe prepares for elections, and his presence on the ground would enable better preparations for elections.
Zesn proposes that the election management body needs to be capacitated and resourced to improve its ability to manage elections efficiently and effectively. Zesn continues to advocate for the creation of a truly independent election management body that includes commissioners and secretariat that people can trust in order to protect the integrity of the ballot.
Zesn is concerned about the state of the voters’ roll which is an important component in the conduct of free and fair elections. Zesn has repeatedly called for the cleaning of the voters roll in order to rectify errors that have been noted over the years. Thus an imperfect voters’ roll can disenfranchise the electorate.
Zesn has repeatedly called for the removal of the voter registration process from the registrar-general’s office to ZEC. Zesn proposes that the voters’ roll be over-hauled and the country adopts the biometric voter registration method which includes photographs of the voters in the roll.
Zesn is concerned about an electoral environment in which Posa and Aippa are still operational and work to reduce freedoms of association, assembly as well as restricting media openness. Zesn’s long-term observers have reported incidents of violence, intimidation and harassment in some areas. The safety of human rights defenders and activists remains an issue of concern as this curtails the oversight function of civic society.
Our observers’ reports show continued politicisation of food aid and agricultural aid on partisan lines. These developments are inimical to the creation of an environment that fosters an atmosphere conducive for the conduct of democratic elections.
It is also imperative to put in place institutional, security and legislative reforms before the next elections. Some of the issues include the removal of the police from inside the polling station and from assisting voters. Assisted voters should be allowed to choose a friend or relative to assist them.
In addition, the Electoral Act should also specify a timely period in which election results will be announced. The constitution should enshrine the time frame for the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, it is worrying that while the country is signatory to a number of international and regional protocols that govern the conduct of elections, these have not been domesticated to make them enforceable. Furthermore, Zesn urges Zimbabwe to sign the African Charter on Democracy and Elections.
Despite the recognition in Article 19 of the global political agreement of the importance of the right to freedom of expression and the importance of the media in a multiparty democracy, Zesn notes slow progress in the implementation and operationalisation of these prescriptions agreed to in this document.
Zesn recognises the important role played by the media in elections and therefore re-emphasises the need for significant and timely reforms to the Broadcasting Services Act and Aippa and the promotion of media pluralism.
Election observation is a critical element in the conduct of free and fair elections, thus there is need for reforms that provide for the safety of local and international observers. Zesn is concerned about the “cherry picking” of observers in past elections.
In addition, the role of inviting observers and other election related functions should fall under the election management body. Adequate numbers of observers need to be accredited early and deployed to all areas of the country for them to observe the elections.
This brings to the fore the need for early invitations to all stakeholders interested in observing the election so that the pre and post-election environment is adequately observed.
In light of previous experiences and concerns, Zesn recommends that the election be supervised by regional and international bodies such as the United Nations and African Union.
Zesn believes that for elections to be free and fair there is need for transparency in all processes of the elections which include among others results management, transparency in the processing of postal votes, inclusion of the diaspora vote, the review of the voting rights in the citizenship act and the provision of privacy and secrecy to special needs groups such as the elderly and “assisted voters”.
With a view to improving future elections, Zesn proposes that reforms are a matter of urgency and imperative before elections are held. The present environment though relatively calm does not provide a conducive environment for the holding of democratic elections.
Zesn reiterates its position of having substantive and meaningful reforms to the architecture and operations of elections in Zimbabwe. There is need for wholesome electoral reforms that will create a new culture of transparency, inclusiveness, fairness and openness to ensure that the outcome of the election is legitimate and acceptable.
Tinoziva Bere is the chairman of Zesn.