Zim urged to comply with Sadc guidelines on elections

HARARE - Zimbabwe should adhere to democratic principles outlined in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) guidelines in the conduct of elections as that will be a key credibility test for observers, a top Sadc Parliamentary Forum (PF) official, Sheuneni Kurasha has said.

Kurasha, who is the Sadc PF’s programmes manager for democracy and governance made these remarks at a recent media and elections review conference organised by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz) in Harare.

Zimbabwe elections are constitutionally due between July and August 2018 and as such the conference was held with an objective to enhance media stakeholders’ readiness and shared understanding of the media’s democratic role in the electoral cycle.

“The Sadc guidelines to elections as revised in 2015 provide benchmarks for election observers,” said Kurasha.

“These guidelines are broad-based and comprehensive to the extent that it is difficult for observers to narrow the outcome of elections in two words — free and fair.”

He said the media plays a critical role in the electoral cycle and that observers consider the performance of this sector when compiling their reports.

“The media is a pivotal player during an election, giving political parties and candidates a platform to engage voters through debate by contestants, news and analysis on the manifestos of political parties and information on the electoral process itself, including voter education, preparations as well as voting and results,” he said.

Kurasha added that the media is also vital in the enjoyment of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and an independent and diverse media is therefore important to ensure that diverse views and opinions are expressed and communicated to the public.

“Given the central role played by the mass media, both print and electronic, it is important for them to provide fair, balanced and impartial coverage so that the public is informed about the entire spectrum of political opinions and ideas.”

“This is vital because historically, the State controlled media tends to support the ruling party at the expense of opposition parties,” he said.

Speaking at the same conference, Maz programmes manager Nigel Nyamutumbu said that government should expedite media reforms if the election is going to pass the credibility test.

“Government is making the right noises committing that the country will conduct elections in a free, fair and peaceful manner but without actions the positive pronouncements will be reduced to mere rhetoric,” he said.

Nyamutumbu said that despite this rhetoric, there is an unparalled opportunity for the media and civil society to hold government accountable and demand the implementation of policies that will ensure that citizens exercise their constitutional right to vote in an open society and without fear of intimidation and violence.

“A democratic media can only be there through collective efforts, cooperation and collaborations among the key stakeholders.

“As such it is important for all stakeholders, including the media, the election management body, election watchdogs, regional bodies and government to constantly engage on how to create an enabling environment for the conduct of credible elections,” he said.

The conference, which came at a time that Sadc has deployed an elections pre-assessment team to Harare, was attended by the Sadc PF general secretary Esau Chiviya, veteran journalists, editors, senior reporters, election watchdog groups and activists among other stakeholders.


 

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