Sadc, AU should ensure credible elections in Zim

HARARE - In order to interrogate the process to having free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, one needs to appreciate what political transitions entail, the types of transitions and the one operating locally in the context of the Global Political Agreement’s article 6 which speaks on the need for constitutional reforms as a pre-requisite to holding of free and fair elections.

Most importantly Sadc and the AU should interrogate the context and content under which those future elections will be held.

This includes the administration of that election as well as the political environment attendant to the holding of that election.

These are the critical signposts for a credible poll moving ahead.

A transition refers to a regime change or simply a change of governance.

A regime change is a change in the institutional structure of a given country.

It is the formal and informal organisation of political power, and of its relations with the broader society.

There are basically three types of political transitions.

- Transition through transaction — This happens when the authoritarian regime initiates the process of democratisation of its body politic but remains a decisive political actor throughout the transition although opposition political parties and other players are part of the process.

- Transition through extrication — Scholars of transitions point out that this type of transition occurs when the authoritarian regime is weakened but not as significantly as is the case in the transition by defeat.

However, in this situation, the authoritarian regime has less power to negotiate as in transition by transaction.

- Transition through Regime defeat – This type of transition involves a decisive defeat of the authoritarian government leading to the end of authoritarian rule and the establishment of a democratic government.
From these three types of transitions Zimbabwe is experiencing transition by transaction where the two MDC formations led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the one led by his deputy Professor Arthur Mutambara and President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party are in a compromise agreement.  

Following the signing of the GPA in September 2008 after the international community refused to legitimise the violent June 2008 Presidential run-off on grounds of massive electoral malpractices among them enforced disappearances, murder and arson against opponents of the then ruling Zanu PF party, the regime has more comparative power in relation to its partners.

That’s why the outstanding issues can only be resolved at the pleasure of Zanu PF.
Zanu PF still controls the enforcement agentsn as it controls the State.

Should Sadc and AU robustly insist on credible elections?
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 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 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 GPA 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 in  2005, 2008 and two presidential elections in 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 the deadly HIV/Aids virus.

Many perceived opponents of the government have been maimed, some sustaining lifetime disabilities.
Several reports by Zimbabwe human rights groups like Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, NGO Human Rights Forum, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights confirm that there has been organised violence facilitated and/or sponsored by 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 which is uneven due to the constitutional architecture of Zimbabwe.

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

 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.

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

In this regard, Sadc and the AU should make sure that all election related issues in the draft constitution should be harmonised with the Electoral Act to allow the restoration of the voting rights of citizens whose citizenship was taken away.

A new, robust voter registration drive should be undertaken to reflect the new dispensation and to allow unfettered registration of citizens.

 My view is that Sadc and the AU should insist on the minimum conditions for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe that 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 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 while Sadc and the AU should make sure that there is a 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 token radio liberalisation done so far is not broad and independent enough as we go for elections.
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 violence as has been the trend in all elections since 1980.

There is need to depolitise 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.

Sadc and the AU should find ways to rein rogue elements in the security sector in order to foster a credible poll. - Pedzisai Ruhanya

*Ruhanya is the director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.

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