Free, fair, credible by-elections possible

HARARE - If the country entertains any hopes of reasserting itself as a bastion of democracy and good governance ahead of the much-anticipated 2018 general elections, like President Robert Mugabe wants the world to believe, the forthcoming by-elections scheduled for April 23 in Guruve South and Mazowe North, Mashonaland Central Province and other parts of the country should be seen as a litmus test.

This has to be seen through peaceful campaigns, a sure sign of growth and maturity in the contestants, their parties as well as their supporters.

The Guruve seat fell vacant after the Zanu PF representative Criswell Mutematsaka lost the seat in terms of Section 129(1)(k) of the Constitution when he was expelled from the governing party while the sudden death on March 17 of Edgar Chidavaenzi, Zanu PF MP for Mazowe North, created another vacancy in the National Assembly.

More often than not, we have heard law enforcement agents warning would-be perpetrators of intra and inter-party violence during elections to behave or face the wrath of the law.

Yet while we applaud the police stance, opposition parties have often complained about their supporters being intimidated and beaten up by known assailants who have gone scot-free while the law enforcement agents watch helplessly.

As it is, the mainstream opposition MDC is boycotting all elections until fundamental electoral reforms that include ensuring a non-partisan security sector, an electronic voters’ roll and alterations in the Electoral Act, among other improvements, have been enacted.

Government should take these by-elections as an opportunity to prove to all and sundry that it is committed to the basic tenets of democracy regarding elections as enshrined in the Sadc guidelines.

This will go a long way in not only winning back the opposition’s confidence, but also to deal with the legitimacy questions that have hovered around Mugabe’s rule since over two decades ago.

While the onus seems is entirely on Zanu PF to cleanse itself, it should be noted that voters must also keep the peace and make their point through the ballot box in support of their favoured candidate.

We also take this opportunity to urge newly-formed parties, including former Vice President Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First to participate in these elections so that they can be able to see first-hand how defective and skewed the electoral environment is.

That way, they will be able to sing from the same hymn book with others who have chosen to boycott the elections from experience.

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