'Zec can't guarantee free polls'

HARARE - The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) says it cannot guarantee free and fair elections, claiming that role largely rests with political parties.

Zec, the body mandated with conducting elections and also plays an oversight role on political players, told participants at a media workshop in Kadoma that it only influences the fairness of an election by less than 20 percent.

The recently-gazetted Electoral Amendment Act gives Zec and the courts teeth to deal with politicians and political players who instigate violence, which has largely blighted successive elections since Independence in 1980.

Under the Electoral Act, candidates found guilty of perpetrating violence will be forced to drop out of a given plebiscite.

“A court which convicts a person of an offence involving politically-motivated violence or intimidation committed during an election period, may, in addition to any other penalty it imposes on the convicted person, prohibit him or her from campaigning or taking any further part in the election,” reads a section of the Act.

However, Utoile Silaigwana, the commission’s deputy chief elections officer, said the body cannot guarantee freedoms of other things such as the press and association, which are critical in ensuring that democratically credible elections are held.

“The freeness of an election depends on freedoms to attend rallies and also the press. What happens outside there is up to the politicians where does Zec come in?

“ It is not the responsibility of the EMB (Election Management Board) to conduct free and fair elections,” said Silaigwana.

“You must ask the players to create a free environment for conducting free elections,” he added.

With the country now in election season after President Robert Mugabe declared that polls will be held in March 2013, expectations are high that bodies such as Zec, which were reconstituted after the formation of a coalition government in 2009, will level the electoral playing field.

Presently Zanu PF is in control of the sole state broadcaster ZBC, which is accused of acting as a party mouthpiece.

Zec says its role involves rolling out ballots, setting up polling stations, voter education as well as the holding of an election.

“The political players out there must themselves create the environment for free elections where Zec should operate freely. Politicians ensure that elections are free and fair by 80 percent,” said Silaigwana.

The freeness of an election depends on freedoms to attend rallies and also the press. What happens outside there is up to the politicians where does Zec come in?

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