ZANU PF and MDC negotiators have in their latest talks agreed on a raft of far-reaching electoral reforms designed to prevent a repeat of the March/June 2008 presidential election fiasco which edged the country to the brink of civil strife.The proposed new amendments to the Electoral Act, exclusively obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent this week, are designed to prevent the 2008 experience by introducing strict procedures on how the poll is to be conducted and results announced. They are also calculated to stem systematic rigging.
Zimbabwe’s elections since 2000 have been hotly disputed due to political violence and rigging.
After the extensive changes, touted as the single biggest achievement in the last round of inter-party negotiations which ended last week with agreement on many issues but deadlock on several disputes, presidential election results will no longer be delayed by more than five days.
“We agreed to amend the Electoral Act so as to oblige the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to declare the presidential results by not later than five days after the final date of voting,” one of the negotiators told the Independent. Elections could be next year.
Results will be audited to ensure reconciliation and the date for the run-off will be fixed ahead of the first round of the election.
“We also agreed to an amendment to the Electoral Act to provide for an audit with respect to presidential election results to verify that the numbers do add up. The verification is to be done at the polling station, district, province and national levels,” another negotiator said.
The results of the March 2008 presidential election, in which President Robert Mugabe lost the first round to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai before bouncing back in June via a campaign of violence, were delayed by more than a month amid fears of manipulation and panicky attempts to manage the president’s shock defeat.
After the reforms, there will be counting of presidential election ballots at a local level to prevent manipulation and vote-rigging.
There will also be the creation of presidential constituency centres to collate results at the House of Assembly constituency level.
Direct transmission of presidential election results from the polling station to the appropriate House of Assembly constituency centre and straight relaying of the results return from the House of Assembly constituency centre to the provincial command centre en route to the National Command Centre will also be introduced.
As a result, the controversial National Command Centre — manned by state agents accused of manipulating past elections, especially the 2008 one — will no longer be able to fiddle with the results.
The changes also seek to prevent parties from using political violence as a tool of winning elections. There will be a special body in the electoral law to deal with political violence.
The Attorney-General’s office will set up a special unit to prosecute perpetrators of violence. Special courts will also be established at a magistrate’s court level to deal with cases of violence.
ZEC will now have powers to summon parties accused of violence and give them warnings. Those convicted of violence will be banned from elections.
The amendments span presidential elections, political violence, the period between nomination day for election candidates and polling, creation of ward centres for council elections for the collation of results, House of Assembly constituency centres, senatorial constituency centres and presidential election constituency centres.
They also deal with posting results outside polling stations and new election centres, postal voting, police and council clearance certificates for candidates in local government elections, the police’s role in elections, voter education, delimitation, jurisdiction of the Electoral Court and announcement of presidential elections results.
Section 38 of the Electoral Act currently provides that the period within which an election should be held after nomination day should not be less than 28 days and not more than 50 days. The parties agreed to extend the period between nomination and polling day to not less than 42 days and not more than 63 days to give candidates more time to prepare for elections.
Negotiators agreed after extensive discussions on the need for new and effective measures to deal with “the menace of politically-motivated violence during the campaign and post-election periods”.
The parties agreed to the following measures to be incorporated into the Electoral Law:
• Set up a Special Body to receive complaints or allegations of politically motivated acts of violence, to monitor and to carry out investigations of such reports. The special body will closely liaise with the police and with multi-party liaison committees;
• To refer these allegations to police for expeditious investigations and prosecution;
• To empower ZEC to summon candidates, election agents or political parties against whom allegations of violence have been made or on their own initiative where they believe or have reason to believe that acts of violence have been perpetrated;
• To empower ZEC to warn candidates, election agents or political parties against acts of violence perpetrated on their behalf by their supporters;
• Set up special courts at the magistrates’ level to try cases of politically- motivated violence committed during the election period;
• Ensure the Attorney-General sets up a special unit to prosecute cases of politically-motivated acts of violence committed during the election period;
• Provide in the law that upon conviction by special courts, the court can make a special order banning candidates from further participation in the election process.