'Forget political reforms before 2018'

HARARE - With only a year and few months left before the 2018 elections, political and social analysts contend that the governing Zanu PF government will not entertain any electoral reforms as this will be tantamount to surrendering power.

Election Resource Centre (ERC) director Tawanda Chimhinhi said chances for real and consequential reforms are fast disappearing as we get closer to 2018.

“There is a real danger that those opposed to reforms will consider inconsequential reforms so that a narrative of actually doing something to reform is substantiated.

“Reforms, particularly those relating to electoral processes are essentially time bound if they are to be effective,” said Chimhinhi.

The ERC director said chances of getting a clean voters' roll still remain but again time is fast running out.  “A clean voters' roll is beyond just compiling a list of voters. It is about coming up with the rules for registration having fully consulted, developing and publicly sharing clear time lines for the registration processes, addressing the vulnerabilities of the registration process to remove possible systemic manipulation, deliberate malpractice and possible fraud, opening up the process to exhaustive scrutiny by all stakeholders and ensuring that the environment in which voter registration happens is free and fair to guarantee a credible process,” said Chimhinhi.

MISA-Zimbabwe national director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the challenge is that there is massive stalling of progress with regards legislative and democratic reforms.

“What we will definitely get is tokenism meant to hoodwink the local and international community into believing that we are headed in the right direction. This will essentially be about getting the much needed foreign aid.

“But beneath the surface, I believe nothing substantive will take place with regards ensuring constitutionalism. We are already witnessing evidence of intentions to the shred the supreme law and this casts doubts on attainment on the bare minimum conditions that will engender democracy,” said Ngwenya.

Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga said: “Chances of electoral reforms before 2018 elections depends on how much pressure is brought to bear on the governing Zanu PF government from opposition parties, civil society, and ordinary citizens.

“If the opposition lacks spine and commitment to wholeheartedly push for reforms then do not expect Zanu PF to introduce any electoral reforms on its own volition because the current uneven electoral field favours them.”

ZimRights director Okay Machisa said: “Electoral reforms means reforming the ruling party which is very unlikely. Zimbabweans should know that and once they have known that they should fight strongly to earn their democracy - of course fighting using legal means.”

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said: “Electoral reforms under a Zanu PF government won't come. Reforms are tantamount to Zanu PF subjugating or surrendering power. That will not happen. There are no political incentives to Zanu PF for electoral reforms.”

ZESN director Rindai Vava said: “Failure to meet the demands and calls for electoral reforms of the broader civic society as spelt out in our 10 point plan is likely to result in another contested electoral process in Zimbabwe.

“There is also need for guarantees of a conducive environment for all political contestants where they can freely campaign and have equitable access to the media. We have previously called for the creation of a conducive political environment devoid of violence and intimidation and that is a prerequisite to any democratic process in Zimbabwe.”

Social analyst Lenox Mhlanga said: “The appetite by the current government to institute reforms is not there. They will not embark on an exercise that will evidently reduce their chances at the polls.

“The ZEC has cited budgetary issues as an excuse for delays in voter registration and education. The cash strapped government is unlikely to prioritise funding these crucial electoral processes.”

Political activist Tabani Moyo said political processes by their nature are highly contested terrains which require thought stamina and agility to outwit opponents.

“Change in this regard is a function of competent opposition and civics through rolling out strategic interventions and political campaigns that forces officialdom to the table.

“As is, the opposition is struggling to heighten the stocks on the need for reforms. In essence the opposition seems to be disillusioned in peripheral power struggles while the centre has free reign to define the electoral atmosphere.

“So it depends on the behavior of the opposition and its ability to galvanize the entire spectrum of stakeholders on the need for reforms,” said Moyo.

He added that this equally depends on how the opposition will nourish itself on organizing, priority setting, craft competence and behaving like government in waiting.

Legislator Jessie Majome said she does not have the gift of looking into the seeds of time to see which grain will grow and which will not.

“My portfolio committee reports that I presented time and time again to Parliament report Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)'s own words that they will not be ready for the 2018 polls given their level of non-funding in successive national budgets.

“Anything though is possible with political will of those in power - that will, will be sufficient to muster the phenomenal resources needed to prepare conditions for a free and fair election.

“If the political will is not inherent in the powers that be - the Zanu PF government, it can theoretically grow or be induced, and that's what I don't have the gift of prophecy to see,” said Majome.

Social analysts Rashweat Mukundu said: “Electoral reforms especially voter registration is certainly behind time. There is no concerted effort by ZEC, government and opposition on clarifying time tables on key processes such as voter registration and setting up the biometric voting system.

“So 2018 will likely be another disputed election outcome.”

Mining executive Farai Maguwu said: “Certainly we are behind time if these reforms are to take effect in 2018. It appears opposition parties are preoccupied with coalition talks at the expense of electoral reforms, which are more important.

“The reforms must have started much earlier so that the on-going by-elections would be used to test the new electoral system.”

Maguwu said Zimbabweans are now highly migratory owing to a failed economy, “hence majority might not find time to participate in the registration and voter education process as they strive to meet their needs.

“There is need for a lengthy period to allow for voter registration and voter education so that as many citizens as possible are reached.”

Communication and leadership specialist Maggie Mzumara believes we are running behind time.

“Elections are a year and some months away and proposed reforms and the whole election preparation exercise needs much more time than we have left if they are to be undertaken diligently and adequately.

“But what is more deficient here than anything else is political will. And this is a ‘tragedy’ for all pro-reformers and indeed for all of us citizens hoping for a free and fair elections on a level playing field. The governing Zanu PF is unwilling to reform.”

Mzumura said if the political will was there, and sufficiently there, in the little time available, reforms and necessary preparations could well be undertaken.

Social commentator Edinah Masanga said: “Transparent electoral reforms are probably a pipe dream. I think that in any dictatorship electoral theft is what dictators thrive on so we are not likely to see objective and transparent electoral reforms especially if they have to be implemented by the current government.

“If ever there is any talk of electoral reform it will only be for show. What we need is some kind of permissible intervention from the AU or other international bodies to help with electoral transparency.”

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said: “The MDC together with 13 or more other opposition political parties under the NERA trajectory continues to vigorously push for the adoption of electoral reforms. Whether the beleaguered and faction-ridden Zanu PF regime wants it or not we are going to have these electoral reforms.”

Media practitioner Nigel Nyamutumbu said ZEC has to urgently deal with all administrative matters pertaining to the elections, especially voter registration and ensuring the country has a clean voters roll.

“Moreover, other critical reforms within other key sectors such as the media have to begin in earnest such that citizens enjoy their rights to access information and to free expression. Having a free media and open society will not only promote transparency and accountability but also ensures that citizens make informed decisions.

“Evidently, the several by-elections, including the forthcoming plebiscite in Bikita have more or less been held under the same conditions as the 2013 contested elections.”

Social commentator rejoice Ngwenya said: “The possibilities for 'cosmetic' reforms, substantial no, because I don't see opposition with enough critical mass to force Zanu PF. “However, if civil society is willing to drive a mass uprising agenda for reform that might be possible.

“If there is a coalition of opposition parties, they may be able to threaten however by its very fragmented in nature - opposition will still be split along 'factional lines' on participation. As for Voters Roll, the registration process and education, it is still possible to start April and still beat the deadline.”

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