Concern over uneven electoral playing field

HARARE - Opposition political parties are unhappy with amendments to the Electoral Act, which they allege to be another ploy by the ruling Zanu PF party to stall reform using its majority in Parliament.

This came out during a political parties’ interface meeting convened last week by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in conjunction with the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe to discuss progress towards amending the country’s Electoral Act ahead of general elections to be held in July.

The meeting, held in Harare, was attended by representatives of various civic society organisations and political parties.

Participants expressed concern over government’s refusal to engage external auditors to audit the voters’ roll and the delays in making available electronic copies of the voters’ roll.

They also condemned the skewed access to the public media, which favours Zanu PF and the continued existence of draconian laws such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act that limit the capacity of civic society organisations to effectively access the pre-election environment.

MDC representative, Douglas Mwonzora said there were a number of issues that needed urgent attention as they were taking away prospects of free, fair and credible polls.

“There are key things that have not been done and there are also key things that we do not see in the Electoral Act. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the government have refused an external audit of the voters’ roll and insisted on an internal audit but that is like marking your own exam paper.

“Although Zec said that we will have a voters’ roll by the end of April (2018) it is clear that we will not be able to have one by that time,” said Mwonzora.

He also expressed concern over government’s refusal to allow Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora the opportunity to cast their vote.

“On top of that, the State media is not being open to opposition parties and the government has also blocked the observation of the printing of ballot papers,” said Mwonzora.

He added that the continued involvement of the military in electoral issues casts doubt over the credibility, freeness and fairness of the 2018 polls.

“The military has intervened in elections over the past years and they will likely do the same in 2018,” said Mwonzora.

MDC-N legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga told the meeting that the impartiality and professionalism of Zec was critical for free, fair and credible polls adding that voter education ought to be gender sensitive.

“The amendments to the Electoral Act must seek to create safe spaces for women as well as to address the issue of women representation in electoral processes,” said Misihairabwi-Mushonga.

In as much as Zimbabweans have been made to believe that the country was in a new dispensation, she said the situation on the ground paints a different picture.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary affairs Fortune Chasi, who is also Zanu PF’s Member of Parliament for Mazowe South admitted that little has been done to amend the country’s Electoral Act so that it conforms to the Constitution.

He said this was a cause for concern especially given the fact that the country is left with a few months before it holds elections.

“It is not proper that a few months before the elections, we are still squabbling about what the law is. Not only must the law be clear but it must also be in place on time. I would personally give ourselves as a country one mark out of 10,” said Chasi.

He also admitted that currently, there have not been efforts made to increase the participation of people with disabilities in electoral processes.

In light of the challenges, Harare West MP Jessie Majome, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice said stakeholders should demand reforms to the country’s Electoral Act.

She said it was clear the ruling party was against amendments to the Electoral Act.

“The attitude of the present government is that they don’t want electoral reforms. They don’t want amendments to the Electoral Act because it serves them as it is,” said Majome.

Zimbabwe’s Parliament is set to debate the Electoral Amendment Bill on May 8, and there was consensus among parliamentarians and civic society organisations during the meeting that there is need for intense lobbying before the parliamentary debate.

Action points agreed during the meeting included the need for civic society organisations to develop a position paper that will enable them to effectively contribute to the debate on electoral reforms.

Civic society organisations also agreed to continuously lobby election stakeholders while continuously petitioning stakeholders on the need for free, fair and credible polls.

There was also consensus that civic society organisations need to develop a checklist of the Southern African Development Community guidelines on free, fair ad credible polls against the current Zimbabwean position.

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