Referendum exposes Zec's inadequacies

HARARE - The administration and context under which an election takes place are two broad criteria used in determining the credibility or otherwise of an electoral process.  

There is therefore an electoral chain that should not be broken at any point if the election is to be deemed the free, fair and credible.

The administration of polls relates to the legal architecture used to run the law such as the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) Act, the credibility of Zec commissioners and secretariat, the number of polling stations across the country, the timely deployment of electoral staff, the credibility of the voters roll, voter registration, election monitors and observers and ballot papers among others.

Under the current law, the registration of voters is done by the office of the Registrar-General, a department of the ministry of Home Affairs therefore consequently under the security establishment that is opposed to democratic reforms.

Zec’s role is to supervise the registration of voters under a government department controlled by Zanu PF.

This shows that Zec is not in control and therefore is not independent.

This is one area that needs scrutiny as we analyse the electoral chain.

In running an election, the political and electoral environment attendant to the holding of that election must allow the exercise of civil and political liberties as prescribed by domestic, regional and international best practices.

This electoral chain must be unbroken if an election is deemed credible, free and fair.

The just ended referendum tests largely the administrative capacity of Zec to administer a credible election.

It did not test its capacity to address the political environment because the political stakes during the referendum were low.

The two political protagonists; the Movement for Democratic Change and Zanu PF supported the draft charter.

However, there were flashes of political violence and sporadic but coordinated crackdown of human rights defenders and the banning of some civil society groups from observing the referendum, a reflection of the stands of some residual political hardliners associated with President Mugabe’s party that hold enormous power in the security establishment.

My argument is that as the country prepares for the high political stakes of a contest of State power in the coming general elections to be held this year, the Zec secretariat and some commissioners like in the 2008 June presidential run-off election will expose their blatant impotence and unholy alliance with the security apparatus.

It is therefore absolutely critical for people and institutions that are hailing Zec for purportedly running a free and credible election not to celebrate yet; it is a journey that those who are prematurely ululating will collapse before the touching line.

This process is for long distance runners not for sprinters given Zimbabwe’s  failed democratic transition through elections for the past three decades especially at the turn of the 21st century when President Mugabe was faced with a viable and organised opposition; the MDC led by Tsvangirai.

A critical observation of the March 16,  2013 referendum exposes logistical problems associated with Zec’s administration of the plebiscite.

The accreditation process was marred by logistical challenges. There were no clearly defined grounds for restriction of observation, which left the process open to abuse and/or interference.

Those who know Zimbabwe’s secret agents would testify that the accreditation was done by some members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), a spy body that is largely partisan.

The case of ZimRights is instructive, where Zec had to be forced to accredit ZimRights officers after a High Court order after it banned the organisation on the basis of alleged criminal investigations that were not before it but taking cue from the discredited and partisan police.

Zec also deployed a limited number of accreditation officials resulting in delays in the process.

Information dissemination was poor.

In some rural areas, there were complaints that the polling officers were alleged vigilante members who were operating illegal torture camps during the violent and largely discredited June 2008 presidential election run-off.

Such conduct on the part of Zec does not give confidence to the organisation and the whole electoral processes.

This unholy relationship between the Zec secretariat and some commissioners who served in the past should be investigated and measures taken in order to avoid a discredited and contested poll.

A close scrutiny of the Electoral Amendment Act (2012) Section 40H on Observers Accreditation Committee reveals that the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) will be involved in the accreditation of election observers where it states that one person nominated by the Office of the President and Cabinet shall be a member of the committee.

In terms of the law, the current Observer Accreditation Committee is composed of the Zec Chairperson, the Zec Deputy Chairperson, one commissioner, one representative from the president’s office, one representative from the ministry of Justice, one representative from the ministry of Home Affairs, one representative from the ministry of Foreign Affairs and one representative from the Immigration Department.

The offices of the Prime Minister and other coalition partners such as Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and Professor Welshman Ncube are conspicuous by their absence from this committee.

In an inclusive regime such as obtaining in Zimbabwe, the law should have been inclusive because as it stands the Observer Accreditation Committee is a de facto Zanu PF committee.

This gives credence to outbursts by Zanu PF officials that they will not accredit people and institutions that they don’t want.

It does make sense for the formations of the MDC to mislead the public into believing it is the role of Zec to accredit observers when the law is this clear.

This is an area that needs urgent revision as the country prepares for elections.

The current position is that the decisions of the committee are taken as decisions of Zec and in my view this compromises the independence of the commission because there is blatant Executive interference which benefits one political party; Zanu PF.

In the build up to the referendum the Zec Deputy Chairperson, Joice Kazembe, issued a statement in which she outlined restrictions on the accreditation of Western embassies for observing the referendum.

Her comments were reflective of Zanu PF’s thinking and this raises questions about where she is taking instructions from.

The long and short of it is that the MDC formations need representation on the Observer Accreditation Committee to make sure that it addresses the fair needs of all political players in the inclusive regime and does not implement Zanu PF decisions as it has already.

The recruitment of polling officers and other Zec officials was not done transparently just as was the case with the recruitment of the current Zec staff that was responsible for the botched June 2008 presidential run-off.

In other jurisdictions the electoral bodies publicise the recruitment of officials to make sure that the process is transparent.

As a result of the obscure recruitment of officers the party received reports that in some areas the people who were providing voter education were known perpetrators of violence that were deployed to the same communities that they terrorised.

In terms of the Electoral Act, unlike in other jurisdictions, the chief election officer has superior powers than the chairperson of the commission.

That officer has the sole responsibility to announce election results.

This benefits Zanu PF because Lovemore Sekeramayi, the Zec chief elections officer had long standing romance with the Mugabe regime including being a deputy director in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

While the voting process was not choked by the same administrative bottlenecks that have been experienced in previous elections, there were some irregularities that need to be addressed going forward.

There was discord in implementation of the regulations as in some cases observers were excluded from counting and tabulation centres.

In some areas polling officers refused to display results outside the polling stations.

There were received reports of the involvement of the police in checking voters’ identity cards and assisting voters in violation of the electoral law while in some cases Zanu PF vigilante groups were taking down people’s numbers after voting.

It is also clear from data analysis that there has not been effective voter education as evidenced by the significant numbers of spoilt ballots, the failure to bring correct documentation, attempts to vote by people currently classified as aliens and aliens underaged voters.

There were reports of challenges with transmission of results because of poor logistical arrangements.

The administration of this referendum should provide tough lessons for Zec and the coalition government to make sure that the coming elections are organised in an orderly and credible manner. - Pedzisai Ruhanya

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