'More work to improve quality of polls'

HARARE - The year 2018 was eventful for the Election Resource Centre (ERC), a vibrant think tank and election advocacy organisation, as they started it by successfully lobbying for an extension of the voter registration process after the conclusion of the initially planned four phases done by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

The Daily News on Sunday’s Assistant Editor Maxwell Sibanda caught up with ERC executive director Tawanda Chimhini who shared with him the aforementioned activities and several other issues around the electoral field, lobbying and elections.

Q: The year 2018 saw you approach the courts for redress, which cases were these?

A: Two important issues were taken to court by the ERC for litigation namely the demand to have Zec release a copy of the voters’ roll used for inspection and seeking an order barring traditional leaders from assuming political partisan positions in the discharge of their duties. 

While the two cases were won through the securing of court orders, the orders were ignored by both the Zec and the president of the Chief’s Council before appeals against the orders were mounted way after the lapsing of the deadline prescribed by the court. 

Q: What did you want to achieve by taking these cases to court?

A: We hoped to use the courts to expose the vulnerabilities that mitigated against a credible poll supposing that key institutions that should support democracy would be compelled to improve their conduct. 

Q: How were you monitoring the electoral field?

A: Through an election barometer, the ERC tracked the conduct of key electoral processes every three months complementing improvements which were noted but also calling out on deficiencies which posed a threat to a credible 2018 election.

The ERC led calls for comprehensive electoral reforms based on legal reform, administrative adjustments and a secure, free and fair political environment giving all political contestants an equal chance to contest the polls.

Q: Have you approached Parliament on some of the legal issues?

A: Yes, the ERC through a petition filed in Parliament in 2015 suggested areas in the election related laws requiring alignment with the Constitution. 

As a result of the petition and the issues lobbied on, a last ditch effort at amending the Electoral Act passed in May 2018, saw some peace-meal adjustments to the law which were important but sadly insufficient in addressing potential challenges that were bound to dent the credibility of the election two months later.

By June 2018 the ERC was now focused on administrative reforms since opportunities for law reform had lapsed. 

The focus was on Zec to be transparent, verifiable and accountable. 

Q: Have you collaborated with colleges or universities in your work?

A: Yes, ERC collaborated with the University of Zimbabwe, hosted one of the biggest pre-election conferences bringing most election stakeholders to discuss how best the poll could be conducted. 

The conference, officially opened by the Vice President Kembo Mohadi saw exchanges among election stakeholders including traditional leaders, parliamentarians, constitutional commissions, the media, students, civic society organisations and ordinary citizens. 

It was agreed that the country needed to do more to improve the quality of elections, a position reinforced by all international observers that observed the polls. 

Q: Any other collaborations?

A: In June 2018 the organisation in collaboration with other organisations such as ZimRights and Heal Zimbabwe Trust launched a blitz mobilising citizens to get out and vote. The campaign witnessed the hosting of one of the biggest pre-election concerts in Epworth where performances by ZimDancehall artists including Winky D encouraged young Zimbabweans to get out and vote.

These concerts were to be replicated across the country as part of an initiative that had been launched in 2017. 

Q: Does ERC give updates on what they discover on the ground?

A: Yes. In July 2018, the ERC released a pre-election statement admonishing failures by the State and the electoral management body to institute key reforms in response to previous election observer reports and international best practice.

The ERC warned that the country was headed for yet another disputed election while encouraging the Zec to salvage the credibility of the polls by addressing transparency and accountability issues to do with the elections. 

Up until the election, no guarantees had been assured on the issues raised.

Q: And the voters’ roll?

A: The ERC was also able to conduct an audit of the voters’ roll revealing notable inadequacies which, it was believed, could have been avoided if the election commission had done a thorough job.

The ERC then deployed mobile teams to observe the July 30th elections supported by a citizens call centre that had been set up to support citizen participation in the electoral process.

An election report was released in October looking beyond just polling but considering the entire electoral cycle assessing what could have been, what was and what needs to be.

Q: And after a year of lobbying, how do you measure your success?

A: The immediate post-election phase was then characterised by extensive analysis work through auditing all electoral processes and identification for priorities for electoral reforms.

The organisation also began revisiting its litigation to follow up on implementation issues using all available remedies. 

The organisation also tracked electoral petitions assessing the functionality and effectiveness of election dispute mechanism. 

The ERC also managed to continue tracking by-elections to assess progress in implementing recommendations proffered by observers on some of the adjustments that needed to be made to Zimbabwean elections. 

Q: But it seems there is little progress on reforms, how do you continue?

A: Given the absence of any signs of reforming the conduct of polls the ERC initiated engagement efforts targeting the president, the Justice ministry, Parliament and parliamentary portfolio committees, traditional leaders, the election commission, the State media and the security forces encouraging solid efforts towards reforms which are measurable, inclusive and time bound.

Such efforts were premised on government commitment to set the country on a path to reform. 

Q: It seems like you still have a lot of work in 2019.

A: As the year draws to an end, there has never been any doubt that more work needs to be done to improve the quality of future elections.

The ERC remains committed to remaining engaged in election and democracy ahead of the 2023 polls.


 

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