As the 2018 elections draw nearer, Zimbabweans are becoming restless over the Zanu PF government’s reluctance to spearhead electoral reforms to ensure free and fair polls.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
The Elections Resource Centre (ERC), working with other non-governmental organisations recently petitioned Parliament pushing for electoral reforms.
Public hearings by the Jessie Majome-led parliamentary portfolio committee were held at different places in the country, and some of them, for example in Harare at the Senate Chamber, were characterised by heated arguments and disruptions.
In Mutare, the public hearing at Beit Hall was abandoned after Zanu PF supporters allegedly assaulted Majome.
Meetings in Mutoko and Bulawayo were also disrupted by Zanu PF supporters who want the status quo to remain.
One of the interesting points suggested by members of the public was that Zimbabwe, like the United States, must introduce presidential election debates so that it can help people to judge who can be the best candidate.
People opened up and said they were now tired of the political violence and intimidation that characterised previous elections, adding the Electoral Act must include punishment for those parties found perpetrating such acts.
Hardlife Mudzingwa, a vendor, said he was worried that a year before the 2018 elections the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had not commenced voter registration.
“Right now, ZEC has not undertaken voter registration and newspaper reports are saying this will commence in April next year.
“Our understanding, as citizens, is that this is supposed to be an on-going process,” he said.
ZimRights director Okay Machisa, who spoke during the public hearings said, as an ordinary citizen, he was worried about the Diaspora vote.
“The Constitution provides that Zimbabweans everywhere have a right to vote, and now we need constitutional reforms that speak to the fundamental freedoms of those people in the Diaspora so that they are able to exercise their right to vote,” he said.
“I am calling for reforms that will explicitly underscore the principles of the independence of ZEC.
“We have seen issues that do not speak to ZEC’s independence during elections and we want to see reforms.”
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said ZEC had failed to show its ability to regulate elections, which were perennially violent.
“A lot of political violence during elections happens, but we have not seen ZEC regulating the environment to ensure freeness and fairness of elections,” he said.
“We have a code of conduct for political parties, but we have not heard ZEC trying to pin down violent political parties to that code of conduct.”
Shadreck Chipangura of the Reformed Democrats of Zimbabwe said the country does not have sufficient funds for the biometric voting system.
“In America, they are going back to the paper system and in Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan was not recognised because of this system. We also do not have reliable electricity to support the system,” Chipangura said.
Another citizen, Silas Mangono said since 2000, Zimbabwe had always produced disputed election results, and some of the reasons for that was the voters’ roll, with people saying that it can be manipulated.
“Since 2000, ZEC has failed to produce the voters’ roll on time for political parties to scrutinise it. We should abandon the biometric voters’ roll so that we perfect what we are accustomed to,” he said.
“Complaints on elections failing to be free and credible have always been about State-sponsored violence, unleashing of the military and State apparatus on political opponents, and ZEC does not appear to have teeth.
“The law is vague on these issues and it shows ZEC must take necessary action, and the law must be specific and say where there is overwhelming evidence, ZEC should stop the election.”
MDC-T national secretary for elections Murisi Zvizwai said ZEC must form sub-committees made up of all political parties and stakeholders to deal with issues such as voter education.
“ZEC has a constitutional obligation to ensure all Zimbabweans over the age 18 are registered,” he said.
“The definition of Zimbabwe is not by address, but the Constitution says every Zimbabwean with an identity card must be registered. So Zimbabweans, even those in the Diaspora, have a right to vote.
“Justice Rita Makarau [ZEC chairperson] promised that all Zimbabweans, even those in prisons and hospitals, would have a right to vote, but she is not making the requisite arrangements to ensure those incarcerated have access to ensure they are registered.”
Zvizwai said ZEC must be demilitarised, adding even Justice Makarau had at one time admitted the military had no business in elections.
MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who is also the National Election Reforms Agenda head of legal affairs, complained of vote-buying, citing Zanu PF’s parcelling out of residential stands and food hand-outs.
The recent Norton by-election where Zanu PF allegedly parcelled out 9 000 stands to residents to solicit for votes and also dished out 50kg of rice to families, was cited as an example of vote buying.
MDC director of elections Henry Chimbiri said he suspected the biometric voter registration system was a ploy by Zanu PF to rig the 2018 elections.
He alleged that Zanu PF was currently registering 3,5 million supporters, and that these would be transferred into the biometric voter system in a short time as part of the rigging mechanism.
Majome said after the public hearings on the ERC petition, her committee would produce a report to be tabled before Parliament to press for amendment of electoral laws so that they meet the demands of members of the public.
The petition by ERC implores the executive to uphold the Constitution and ensure electoral laws are reviewed in compliance with the charter.
It reads: “A legal framework must be put in place that guarantees an undisputed electoral process, enhance the independence of ZEC, review all legislation that negatively impacts on the political environment, electoral processes and their outcomes, and review provisions relating to voters registration and the voters’ roll to ensure they enhance the credibility of Zimbabwean elections.”
The petition also wants Parliament to implore the executive to ensure they enhance voter education by creating more space for stakeholders other than ZEC, extend the franchise and the right to vote to all citizens of Zimbabwe, to reconstitute the Electoral Court in compliance with the Constitution, and ensure invitation of election observers is an exclusive function of ZEC.