Civil society, election stakeholders meet

HARARE - Civil society and other election stakeholders on Tuesday met in Harare at a conference which ran under the theme, ‘‘Building consensus on electoral reform–making, demand must meet supply’’ that sought to provide a platform to build consensus on priorities for electoral reform.

The conference was held under the auspices of the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and there were submissions on alignment of Laws with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and on the status of the ERC petition on Electoral Reforms that was submitted to the Parliament of Zimbabwe in September 2015.

Electoral stakeholders that included Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Justice and Legal Affairs and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) gave presentations.

At the end of the conference the ERC took the opportunity to launch the Election Barometer which tracks progress on the electoral reforms since the July 2013; harmonised elections.

ERC executive director Tawanda Chimhini said with less than two years remaining before the 2018 general elections, “Zimbabweans find themselves once again wondering whether the country will be ready for these polls.

“Whether appropriate measures will be put in place to deliver an election that is credible and acceptable to the stakeholders. And whether the process will be such that for the first time in decades, it will confer unquestioned legitimacy on the victors.

Chimhini said there is progress in electoral reform but that it is piecemeal and not adequate.


He said more needs to be done as the country heads towards the 2018 elections. He pointed out some of the key areas that the Election Barometer looked at;

Voter education

Based on an assessment of post 2013 by-elections, there has been marked improvements in voter registration since Zec took over the process.

The Voters’ Roll produced since then has been cleaner, more accessible and searchable.

However, more needs to be done to avoid executive interference and intrusion, especially financially.

Zec must access its budgetary vote directly from Parliament and not the Executive.

More needs to be done to improve stakeholder participation, comprehensiveness of the roll, credibility, transparency, cost effectiveness and security of the process, as well as keeping the public informed.

Overall, there are legislative and financial short-comings which led to derailment of a comprehensive voter registration process.

Zec is encouraged to adhere to constitutional requirements for a continuous voter registration process which is complaint to the principles of voter registration.

Voter education must be continuous and accessible to all citizens. It must accompany all electoral processes including the continuous voter registration exercise.

Provision of voter education must not be restricted although it should be monitored.


The law must provide for continuous voter education and inclusive participation by other stakeholders.

Voter education must also be innovative to attract youth and people living with disabilities. Voter education in Zimbabwe scores lowly if measured against voter education principles especially given the fact that it is not continuous and is restricted.

Media

The Media remains very polarised. There is limited access, if any, for opposition parties to public media.

Zec, civil society and Parliament must push for equal access as the country heads for 2018 elections.

There has been no movement with regards to observers’ or Zec recommendations in this regard.

There is zero progress of the four guiding principles. Restrictive legislation such as Access to Information Privacy and Protection Act (Aippa) remains in place.

Political tolerance

There is little progress in improving the environment to be more tolerant and democratic for free expression of citizens’ wishes.

This has and continues to undermine credibility of elections in Zimbabwe. Progress in legal and administrative frameworks will suffer a drawback if this environment framework is not addressed.

It takes political will on the part of the political parties and stringent enforcement mechanisms on the part of Zec and Parliament.

The absence of physical violence must not cloud the presence of intimidation as it is a subtle method of instilling fear. There must be legislative alignment of laws to ensure Zec punishes perpetrators of such acts.

Furthermore, Section 133J of the Electoral Act must be fully implemented to ensure the responsibilities given to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) are fully discharged.

Postal voting

As a response to the recommendations of the observers and Zec, reverting to postal voting was a poor decision as it relapses to a system that had been problematic and condemned before.

Postal voting has been associated with low levels of secrecy in the past, especially during the 2008 Presidential run-off.

The lack of checks and balances by stakeholders contributes to the lack of transparency and credibility.

It does not accord the right to vote to all citizens which is contrary to Section 67 (3) (a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which guarantees the right to vote.

Funding

Election funding must be adequate and readily available to the Commission.

This enables the Commission to carry out their functions efficiently and effectively.

In 2013, there was inadequate funding for the elections as observed by the different observer missions.

The budget for Zec in 2016 was only $8,7 million which is hardly adequate to conduct voter registration alone.

On this front there has been no progress at all. Zec must be allowed to fundraise, and must be allocated a larger budgetary vote through Parliament to express the country’s readiness for reform and the 2018 elections.

Timing of elections

By-elections have been conducted in due time frames and as dictated by the law.

It remains to be seen if elections will be held after due planning and with proper legislative frameworks in 2018.

There is no prescribed date but the timeframe is given in Section 158 of the Constitution.

This allows all stakeholders to plan and prepare while it reduces room for manipulation.

Ballot Printing

There has been no progress on this matter. As 2018 approaches, there are slim chances that this issue will be addressed.

Furthermore, there is no accountability and transparency with regards to where and how ballot papers are printed for the by-elections conducted since 2013.

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