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Minimum conditions for free and fair elections

AN election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office.

Report by Zimbabwe Election Support Network
The past decade in Zimbabwe has seen a dramatic and extraordinary focus on elections which have been characterised by widespread irregularities, intimidation and violence.

 
Political party poll watchers, civil society organisations (CSOs) and a number of regional and international observers have been systematically prevented or restricted from observing the electoral processes. Despite improvements to the election regulations in 2008, Zimbabwean voters faced intimidation, threats, violence and severe pressures when they attempted to engage in electoral activities.

 
The March 28 2008 harmonised elections and the subsequent presidential runoff in June 2008, failed to meet international and regional standards for impartiality, transparency and accountability.

 
Over the years, Zesn — a network of 30 non-governmental organisations promoting democratic elections in Zimbabwe — has made a number of observations on the electoral processes of Zimbabwe. The pre-election has been characterised by a number of irregularities that include the unlevel electoral playing field, curtailment of freedoms of assembly, speech, movement and information. The absence of key electoral legislative laws and regulations such as Political Parties Code of Conduct has created a vacuum for disciplining the truant political parties engaged in acts of violence, hate language and other political misconducts.

 
In addition the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) has not been able to implement the electoral provisions that allow it to level the playing field and the commission has also lacked the independence and neutrality to bring political parties to book especially strong political parties. This lack of independence has also seen the commission unable to speedily deal with electoral disputes, results management and election-related violence.

 
Zimbabwe has a number of legal provisions that curtail access to information, freedom of movement and association such as Posa, BSA and, Aippa this has left an information vacuum for citizens and other stakeholders interested in electoral issues.

 
It is against this backdrop and the recent calls for elections amid the constitutional reform process that Zesn calls for pertinent reforms to be instituted as the country prepares for these elections. Outlined are some of the key reforms that the network envisages as the minimum conditions for a free and fair election.

 

Political environment There is need for the creation of a conducive environment before the next election and this would entail having election-related legislative reforms, in addition to the following:

  • A total end and denunciation of politically related violence and prosecution of the perpetrators of all forms of political violence.That Sadc ensures a non-violent, free and fair election that respects the will of the people of Zimbabwe.
  • Parties must commit to non-violent campaigning.
  • Dismantling of all structures of violence.
  • Media and political parties must not use hate speech.
  • That, the right of assembly and movement be restored and guaranteed.
  • De-militarisation of the electoral machinery and processes.
  • Non-partisan use of state resources  and humanitarian aid.
  • Non-partisan traditional leadership structures.
  • Respect to the doctrine of separation of powers.

 

 
Legislative reforms
There is need to take the necessary legislative steps and other measures that would ensure free and fair elections and some of these reforms include;

  • Reform of the Electoral Act — Reforms to the Electoral Act which have been agreed to by the political parties must be endorsed by parliament.
  • Reform of repressive legislation (Posa, Aippa).
  • Accountability and transparency in the acquisition of and utilisation of funds.
  • Reform of citizenship Act to allow the right to vote to all eligible voters.
  • Reform of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act.

 

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission

  • There is need for a truly independent electoral commission with full mandate and in charge of all electoral=related functions and activities, not answerable to a minister and reporting to parliament. ZEC should be in charge of inviting and accrediting observers (local, regional and international).
  • The commission should also be fully capacitated and resourced so that it can improve its ability to manage elections efficiently and effectively.
  • ZEC should adopt an open system for recruitment of electoral officials.
  • ZEC should be provided with adequate resources for running the election (preparation, civic education).
  • ZEC to be open and give updates and information to the public.

 

Transparency in all processes including special votes, postal votes, and results  management.

 
Timely dispute mechanisms and resolution of election-related cases.

 
Timely announcement of results.

 
Respect of the will of the people .

 

Observers

  • Early deployment of local, regional and international observers that is at

least three months before and one month after the elections

  • Preliminary assessment teams (as of now to assess the political environment and to do post election follow-ups)
  • Regional civic society observers should be invited and accredited on time
  • Observers must be allowed to observe voting at embassies and other places e.g. barracks
  • Full access to all electoral processes especially in the rural areas
  • Drawn up guidelines for the observers
  • Protection of the GNU/GPA structures and frameworks during elections
  • Clear strategies and demands if the GNU is dissolved
  • Decentralised registration and accreditation of local observers- registration at the district level
  • Demand for Sadc to be monitors not observers, ie the interventionist role
  • Security of observers must be guaranteed by the state
  • No cherry-picking of observers

Media
That media freedoms be restored and guaranteed particularly the liberalisation of the state media and licensing of independent radio and television stations
Equitable Access to the ZBC by all political parties and candidates – free airtime during prime time viewing

 

 

  • Reasonable charges for airtime for political parties
  • Zec to enforce the public broadcaster on its role and ensure equitable coverage of all political players, non negative coverage, hate speech
  • Zec directive to state media to observe non partisan reportage
  • An ad hoc Zec structure to handle complaints against partisan reporting by the media
  • Zec must enforce advertising ethics-code of conduct for the political parties and the public broadcaster (content and structure of adverts and political messages)
  • Zec to give voter information and updates using the public media on time
  • An independent agency within Zec to monitor and regulate adverts, party jingles and politically insensitive music

 

Voters’ roll

The recent audit of the voters’ roll by Zesn revealed a number of discrepancies in the voters’ roll hence there is need for;

  • An accurate and complete voters’ roll before the impending elections
  • Registration of eligible citizens (birth certificates, IDs, lost identity documents, all eligible Zimbabweans in the Diaspora)
  • Reform of the Citizenship Act
  • Access to the electronic voters’ roll at no cost at any time
  • Further cleaning of the voters’ roll or fresh registration of voters
  • Removal of strict registration requirements (proof of residence)
  • Adequate dissemination of information on the inspection of the voters’ roll

 
Zimbabwe cannot afford to have another disputed election and it is with this in mind, with a view of improving future elections, we propose that reforms are a matter of urgency and imperative before elections are held.

 

In consent with this a conference organised by Zesn which brought together various organisations and partners working on elections to deliberate on electoral issues, CSOs said the present environment does not provide a conducive environment for the holding of democratic elections. However they emphasised that if need be, CSOs will remain committed to monitor the process and advocate for minimum conditions before the Referendum and next elections through effective coordinated interventions. It is with this in mind that Zesn continues to advocate and lobby for comprehensive electoral reforms.

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