We want electoral reforms before 2018 poll

HARARE - While President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that the 2018 harmonised elections would go ahead as scheduled, election watchdogs and analysts believe for the vote to be credible the incoming government must push for electoral reforms otherwise this will be another disputed poll.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network director Rindai Vava-Chipfunde said the first critical step is to initiate an all-inclusive dialogue which will ensure the implementation of electoral reforms which will lead to free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.

“In addition, it is important to begin deliberations on stabilising the country, national healing, reconstruction and rebuilding of the economy.

“In order to ensure that the next elections passes the credibility test there are five fundamental requirements which must be completed, namely the establishment of a political environment that guarantees the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights such as the right to vote and register to vote without fear, the strengthening of electoral governance through an independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) which is highly professional and adequately resourced to conduct its electoral mandate including voter registration, voter education and results management in a transparent manner,” said Vava-Chipfunde.

She added that the ongoing biometric voter registration must be completed and possibly extended to ensure that a clean voters’ roll is in place.

“A clear roadmap to the next election should be defined by all key stakeholders taking into consideration the time required to implement the aforementioned key reforms.

“We expect to see the demonstration of political will to make the necessary reforms and alignment of electoral laws to the Constitution before the next election,” she said.

Political analyst Precious Shumba said the new government should address the issue of the neutrality of the Zec, and the minimum qualifications required for candidates for council and parliamentary seats.

“The issue is not mainly about reforms but about the electoral practices in Zimbabwe by the different political actors. Sometimes when you look closely at the legislation, they are very good, but the actors who wield executive powers abuse them for their ends.

“All the electoral laws have to be aligned to the Constitution. Term limits for councillors and MPs have to be introduced to allow more citizens to have a chance at leading wards or constituencies, and minimise the culture developing in Zimbabwe where some politicians have become career councillors or MPs. For these, at most two terms will do, and this must be legislated,” said Shumba.

Election Resource Centre (ERC) director Tawanda Chimhini said since 2013 there have been some reforms instituted to address some of the inadequacies associated with Zimbabwe elections.

 

“Such reforms include the introduction of biometric voter registration, the provision of the Electoral Court as a department of the High Court and the legal provision of fresh voter registration to create a new voters’ roll.

“Sadly while these reforms are crucial and deserve to be celebrated they have tended to disregard the consequential reforms that have substantive bearing on freeness, fairness and credibility of our elections,” said Chimhini.

He said at the heart of calls for reforms have been issues relating to the independence of the electoral administration body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

“At the centre of the controversies about our polls has been the political environment in which electoral processes are conducted.

“Chief among complaints about elections has been the invitation of observers to watch our elections.

These issues remain largely outstanding almost eight months before the next election.

“A serious preparation for the 2018 elections can therefore not ignore adequate attention on three critical issues as a matter of urgency; the full alignment of the Electoral Act and other election bearing laws with the Constitution, an overhaul of the election administrative framework and the securing of a conducive political environment guaranteeing the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms during electoral processes.”

He said elections set for 2018 must be premised on mutually-agreed strengthened laws, strengthened state institutions and a secure political environment if key principles guaranteeing credibility, freeness and fairness of elections are to be present.

“Proceeding with elections without the proposed reforms would be accepting to not only having a predetermined electoral outcome but setting ourselves up for a disputed election whose legitimacy may compromise the development of the country.

While these reforms will be necessary ahead of 2018 elections, their pursuit must be measured by clear time frames and indicators which are measurable.

“The authority to be established to replace the previous one must therefore hit the ground running and initiate interventions that should indicate a clear departure from the past in terms of elections as a measure of good faith.

“While time is quite limited to institute all the required reforms, how effectively we use the remaining time before the elections will be very telling in terms of the trajectory that the country will take in the post Mugabe era,” said Chimhini.

Political analyst MacDonald Lewanika said the new government must outline a clear roadmap with known milestones towards the election.

“The issue of when the election is due and how it will be administered remains a matter of conjecture. This includes a clear outline of when critical elements like registration. Nomination, campaigning and voting will take place and the regulations that will guide this process.

“The procedures for the 2018 elections must be clear and public especially given the changes that have been introduced by the turn to biometrics.

“Although the Electoral Act has been amended twice, it is still to meet the dictates of the new constitution including making special provisions for every eligible Zimbabwean to vote despite location.

“The new government in words and deeds must promote healthy and fair electoral competition - this includes resisting from and stemming violence and intimidation,” said Lewanika.

He added that recent events where the military overtly entered politics can be intimidating to opponents. “The new government has an opportunity to promote fair political competition devoid of violence through demilitarising their language and operations. It should accord fair and equal access to the public media.”

Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga said while Mnangagwa came into power through the barrel of the gun, through a defacto military coup, if Zimbabweans go to elections in 2018 and he loses, will the military accept that?

“It is unlikely, and that is the biggest electoral reform that must take place, to remove the military from interference and involvement in electoral, civilian, and political affairs.

“It is difficult to see Mnangagwa, who owes so much to the military, asking the soldiers to return to the barracks and confine themselves to the barracks.

“Mugabe maybe gone but his system of repression remains intact and very much alive and now in the hands of Mnangagwa,” said Mavhinga.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Ngwena's coming in is more of the same. “The elections will be done without reform as there is no time to put the required reforms between now and election dates next hear.

“Some of the reforms required such as on electoral laws and aligning them with the Constitution, setting up a genuinely independent commission, and putting in place a mechanism for Diaspora vote take more than 12 months.

“But reforming the electoral processes will provide competition to Ngwena and 'risk' having an opposition victory. So there will be no meaningful and tangible electoral reforms as Ngwena and military can't do a coup and lend the victory to the opposition.

“His statement that elections are on next year is a very tactical move to try and portray that he is democratic. He also wants his presidency to have legitimacy from somewhat sham elections after taking over power by a coup.

“Also calling elections early when opposition is not yet organised and Tsvangirai is unwell and not handing over power will ensure a Zanu PF victory or will make people not blame rigging but opposition weakness for his victory.”

Analyst Rashweat Mukundu said: “The 2018 election must be held when a thorough voter registration process has been done. There is need to mitigate the abuse of State resources by the ruling party inclusive of stopping violence and threats.”

Communications specialist Maggie Mzumara said: “I would like the whole Electoral Act to be harmonised with the new Constitution. I would like the proof of residence requirement to be scrapped off, the Diaspora to be able to vote.”

Analyst Farai Maguwu said there was need to disband the Zec. “BVR process must be given enough time and more publicity. More resources should be allocated to ensure more people register; decentralisation of Zec is vital to make it more accountable; liberate airwaves — Zanu PF monopoly over the State media must end; issue of proof of residence must be done away with and we need a strong guarantee that the military won't interfere with elections.”