Can Zim hold free, fair elections?

HARARE - Ahead of the June 2000 parliamentary elections, the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) produced a pre-election survey, which predicted that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would win 75 seats out of the 120 seats in Parliament.

The late director of MPOI, Professor Masipula Sithole accounted for the deficit in the predicted seats as a result of “the margin of terror as opposed to the margin of error”, on MPOI’s part.

The 2000 parliamentary election was characterised by unprecedented violence and intimidation.

Civic organisations in Zimbabwe produced reports which indicated that voters had been subjected to assaults, abductions, arson, rape and other forms of terror.  

The same scenario of violence was witnessed in the disputed 2002 and 2008 presidential elections.

In the disputed June 2008 presidential run-off, the MDC reported that over 200 people were killed in incidents of political violence and several thousands of people were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment.

The result of that poll was rejected by both domestic and international players leading to inter-party negotiations that resulted in the signing of the Global Political Agreement in September 2008 and later the formation of the inclusive government of Zimbabwe in February 2009.

Since the 2000 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe held two parliamentary elections, 2005, 2008 and two presidential elections 2002 and 2008.

Like the 2000 poll, these subsequent elections have been characterised by violence, coercion and gross violations of human rights.  

Investigations by human rights groups indicate that more than 88 percent of these human rights abuses can be attributed to groups sympathetic to the establishment.  

Scores of women have been raped and some infected with HIV/Aids virus.  

Many perceived opponents of the government have been maimed, some sustaining lifetime disabilities.
Several reports by Zimbabwe human rights groups like the NGO Human Rights Forum and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights confirm that there has been organised violence facilitated and/or sponsored by the state through direct action or glaring omission.

The manipulation of the media and the judiciary has also been legendary.
In some cases justice has been deliberately denied to “perceived” opponents of the government through inordinate delays.  

A case in point is the MDC election petitions filed in 2000 whose resolution by the courts remains outstanding to this day.

The two most influential factors in all these elections have been the “margin of terror” and the unevenness of the political playing field.

These issues have not been solved to this day, yet there is a chorus of misguided voices calling for elections without reforms.

The political playing field is uneven due to the constitutional architecture of Zimbabwe.  

Zimbabwe’s Constitution facilitates the exercise of arbitrary power rather than its limitation.

Zanu PF wants to maintain this imperial constitutional set up going by its draft constitutional position.

According to Professor Jonathan Moyo’s book Voting for Democracy Electoral Politics in Zimbabwe (1992), the Constitution of Zimbabwe vests in the President “imperial powers”.  

These “imperial powers” are a factor when the President — their repository — is an interested party in the contest for power.  

The power of the President to legislate in emergency and electoral issues essentially means that he is a judge in his own cause, described by some as domestic imperialism.  

For instance, Section 158 of the Electoral Act states that the President can legislate on elections at any stage of the election process and it is this law that has been used in the past elections to alter polling days.

These excessive powers were used against the rights of citizens to disenfranchise the electorate ahead of the 2002 and 2008 presidential elections.

Zanu PF want to maintain this undemocratic constitutional position.

The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI)’s position is that the minimum conditions for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe have to address the administration of elections and political environment attendant to the holding of future elections.

This could be addressed by doing the following things:

- Dismantling of the infrastructure of violence (e.g. Green Bombers) and political commitment not to resort to violence.

- Limitation of the presidential powers not only with respect to election but also to democratic rights of citizens.

- The executive’s power to legislate, especially on the Electoral Act must be abolished as it is not consistent with a democratic political system.

- The employees of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) must be vetted to make sure that the operatives are not partisan individuals from the army, police, Central Intelligence Organisation as is currently the case. If this is not addressed the recently appointed Zec commissioners will not serve any purpose.

- The Zec should be ceased with the delimitation of constituencies, a process that has been abused by the incumbent President to tinker with constituency boundaries to his advantage against other political players.

- The registration of voters should be the preserve of Zec and not the Registrar-General, a body that has been associated with electoral shenanigans for the past three decades.

- Code of Conduct that is agreed upon by all stakeholders, including the political contestants and civil society.

- The airwaves must be freed from all political interference and control.

A tripartite forum consisting of political parties and civil society organisations must monitor the freeness of the airwaves.

Alternatively this function must be discharged by the election monitoring body.

As a demonstration of good faith the government must repeal the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), which gives the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings monopoly over the airwaves.

- The repeal of draconian legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and Access to Information and Protection and Privacy Act (Aippa) is one of the first steps any serious government should take towards democratising elections.  These laws inhibit the exercise of democracy.

- The security service sector which includes the army, police, prisons and the secret agents should not be involved in partisan political processes including taking part in politically motivated cases of violence as has been the trend in all elections since 1980.

There is need to depoliticise and criminalise such conduct by the security apparatus.

Making public statements supporting a political party and candidates as has been done by the security forces in 2002 and 2008 should be desisted from.

Once that happens the election result should be declared null and void and the culprits charged with treason for undermining and subverting the sovereign will of the citizens.

What then is the role of the AU in Zimbabwe’s Electoral Politics?

In the view of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), the Zimbabwean authorities should be made to implement the Sadc and African Union (AU) principles and guidelines governing the conduct of democratic elections which among others call upon member states to do the following:

1. Full participation of the citizens in the political process;
2. Freedom of association;
3. Political tolerance;
4. Regular intervals for elections as provided for by the respective national constitutions;
5. Equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media;
6. Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for;
7. Independence of the judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions; and
8. Voter education.
9. Acceptance and respect of the election results by political parties proclaimed to have been free and fair by the competent national electoral authorities in accordance with the law of the land.
10. Challenge of the election results as provided for in the law of the land.

However, these values don’t mean anything in the Zimbabwean context because they don’t address the environment attendant to the holding of free, fair and democratic elections.

The role of the military in Zimbabwe’s electoral politics is an issue that the Sadc and AU need to address before the holding of future elections.

Is half a loaf better than nothing?

The position of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) is both the context and content of issues are crucial to any election process.

The issues that the parties to the GPA agreed to deal with the administration of elections but do not address the political environment attendant to the holding of free, fair and democratic elections.

Most fundamentally the parties to the GPA fail to address the glaring ubiquitous nature of the securocrats in the administration of elections.

It is not conceivable in the view of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) to hold free, fair and democratic elections in Zimbabwe without demilitarising Zimbabwe’s electoral politics.

There is also a misguided and misplaced view by the Zimbabwean inclusive government authorities that the Attorney-General’s office will play an impartial role.

While there is nothing wrong with the prosecuting role of that office, the officer bearers in the present circumstances are toxic to the administration of justice because of the partisan nature of the Attorney-General (AG)Johannes Tomana and law officers like Michael Mugabe who have unashamedly publicly indicated that they are political diehards of the Zanu PF component to the current political marriage.

There is a high risk and possibility that the police, the partisan court officials and the AG’s office can gang up to lay out outrageous charges against opponents of Zanu PF under these new changes to the Electoral Act.

A truly independent Zec should have the power to level the playing field.
The glaring silence of the government on contentious legislation such as Aippa, Posa, and the Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act and demonstrates the government’s intention to tinker with, rather than transform the electoral environment.

It is also noteworthy that nothing has been mentioned concerning the vote of millions of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.

What kind of a democracy that disenfranchise citizens. Is it not face powder or lipstick democracy?

Needless to say the majority of these Zimbabweans living abroad are victims of repressive political culture that has refused to reform itself despite alarming levels of disenchantment on the way the country is being administered.

Perhaps there is an aesthetic value to putting lipstick on a frog for it will look pretty for a short while.

However, the country is now beyond the politics of cosmetic gestures because of the continued electoral disputes that confront Zimbabwe after every election since 2000 to date and the resultant legitimacy and governance crisis that Zimbabwe has been grappling with since Zanu PF lost the hearts and souls of Zimbabweans a decade ago.

It is therefore prudent for Zimbabweans to note that it is not a matter of benevolence or the prerogative of the inclusive government of Zimbabwe to make electoral reforms that mirror free and fair election but rather the process must be inclusive of Zimbabwean citizenry.

The ZDI would like to commend the transitional authority for its faint-hearted attempt to address the illegitimacy surrounding the electoral system in Zimbabwe.

However, unless government commits itself to dealing with the political context of the elections, these proposals only serve to widen the margin of terror rather than the margin of error. - Pedzisai Ruhanya

*Ruhanya, is a PhD Candidate and director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI)

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