HomeEditorial CommentWhy electorate must not give up on electoral reforms

Why electorate must not give up on electoral reforms

I was a bit taken aback after reading an article that alluded to the fact that electoral reforms being demanded by Zimbabweans are not possible under President Robert Mugabe’s rule, as Zanu PF will not “reform itself out of power”.


While I agree with this understanding of a regime that has lost elections, beaten up people, and without shame continued to rule for the past three decades, it was the conclusion by one of the analysts who thinks making people go out and vote in their millions will dislodge Zanu PF that I disagree with.

Millions have gathered under trees and at night, risked property and life to vote and yet 36 years later, Mugabe is still in power. 

This is the because the call for electoral reforms must be viewed beyond just encouraging people to come out in their numbers to vote or making noise to a defiant regime. I witnessed many opposition rallies and each one of them brought so much hope, not to mention the “cross-over” rally of 2013 at the Freedom Square. After seeing all those people, Morgan Tsvangirai never expected a defeat.

Both the civil society and opposition political parties have demanded the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Some of the fundamentals that work against ZEC emanate from the formulation of such commissions, whose origins are at parliament building, which is dominated by Zanu PF.

The final selection is done by the president who is an interested party in any election. Also ZEC chair, Rita Makarau doubles as the secretary of the Judicial Council and also is also a Supreme Court judge, hence likely to compromise objective electoral challenges given that she is a presidential appointee. 

While these are genuine concerns by the electorate, it is the power and encroachment of the executive into electoral management that will weaken even an independent ZEC.
The executive, through different government departments or ministries have encroach into the electoral field. Some of the key elements that the executive targets before the 90-day election date proclamation include:

The land reform beneficiaries. Following the land redistribution process at turn of the millennium, 70% of the land is now held by small-scale producers, 13% by middle scale farmers, and 11% by large farms and estates. This has resulted in changes in wealth distribution. These changes on the land have created a new “entrepreneurial dynamism” and “productive potential”, resulting in new areas of economic activity with novel marketing and value chains. This patronage will definitely shape the voting options in favour of Zanu PF.

The development, especially of Zanu PF’s social base is also visible in the rapid growth of the informal mining vendors’ sector. In the 1990s this sector was in its incipient stages and was not an area that the ruling party actively cultivated. For example, gold-panners and vendors then lacked access to channels of political representation and were largely unrepresented as the formal sector was dominant and well-organised. 

However, by the mid-2000s these sectors, especially the mining sector grew rapidly as the contribution to the GDP grew from 3,2% in 2008, to 9,5 % in 2010 reaching 13% by 2012, with the mineral sector accounting for 73% of the country’s total exports. Small-scale mining, largely carried out (71%) by young men under 35, accounted for 40% of total output.

The executive  and state organs have penetrated these new social relations to increase Zanu PF dominance in these areas. The executive has initiated various rural programmes around irrigation, farm inputs, marketing of products, education and electrification in the rural areas. However the increasing move towards re-instituting traditional authorities (through rewards and authority) resembles the colonial state practices of imposed traditional structures on the citizens who in turn will frog march people to polling stations.

While ZEC is a creation of the constitution and, therefore guided by the same, it is the hand of the executive that can cause discord within electoral management and kills the international best practice. A few weeks before the elections a new Constitution was adopted in Zimbabwe following a successful referendum held in March 2013. Consequently, the legislative framework governing elections was conducted using an electoral framework that had been reformed through the Electoral Amendment Act of 2012, of the new charter and various statutory instruments that were passed shortly before the elections. 

This gave the citizens the hope that elections would for once be meaningful and worthy participating in. However, during the constitution-making process indications that the executive was not keen on the new supreme law were evident. Even now Zanu PF is not keen on the new constitution.   

The controversial legal decision on Jealous Mawarire vs Mugabe case allowed executive to push ahead with its preferred date for the election, largely bypassing the requirements for consultation with other parties to the Global Political Agreement, and the Sadc demands for the full implementation of the agreement before elections.  ZEC in the process was supposed to respect the courts.

The immediate response of Lindiwe Zulu from the Sadc facilitation team was that: “With or without the court ruling, we are going ahead to meet the parties as the facilitation team ahead of the Sadc summit which (decision) was agreed on in Addis Ababa. All parties have been invited.

As the facilitator put it at the summit, we want the comfort of having a clear roadmap to the elections, with timelines agreed upon by the parties themselves. The ultimate is to have credible elections. We want to avoid the 2008 scenario”

Zulu’s statement resulted in a hail of invective from Zanu PF spokespersons that continued past attacks on her and was a prelude to a major verbal assault by Mugabe himself saying “An ordinary woman says ‘no you can’t have elections on July 31.”

Really, did such a person think we, as a country, would take heed of this street woman’s utterances?”
When the MDC-T set out a political response to an uneven playing field through its “no reforms no elections” campaign as contained in a document “Without Reforms No Elections”
(WReNe), which was adopted by 13 other opposition political parties under National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), it was very clear that Mugabe through his executive powers has made the transfer of power a pipedream.  Some of the factors that have been used and are not even contained in the texts of any Electoral Act, yet play a pivotal role in determining the electoral outcome include: 

– Harvest of fear
- Humanitarian crisis and politics of patronage: food
- Rewards associated with being Zanu (PF): favours

The skewedness of voter registration by ZEC is not entirely its fault, but the  executive’s politics that would have been at play during the electoral cycle which is usually five years. Taking from the three f’s mentioned above one can actually see that many government ministries or departments play different roles with one major expected outcome; that Zanu PF must win the elections.

Harvest of fear: Deployment of the military “on leave” in most rural communities compounded by past memories will ensure that prospective opposition voters will be intimidated into voting for Zanu PF. This also goes with the current reintroduction of the militarised National Youth Service, which has a history of causing havoc in communities.

The local, traditional and government structures have been used as commissariats of the ruling party, where overt threats or violence are made against known opposition supporters.

Food: With both El Niño-induced drought and total agrarian mismanagement by the government, hunger is everywhere. This means that the responsibility to feed or declare a national state of disaster rests upon the executive.  Food distribution will be key in swaying voters.

Favours: This component has not spared the urban electorate through the creation of housing cooperatives. The Local Government ministry is heavily involved in the exercise, disregarding city councils’ directives not to.

So, without electoral reforms, we are 10 steps behind the struggle we have set to finish in the next election.

Feedback: sydtawa@gmail.com

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