ZEC should meet voter expectations

THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced by government last week is Zimbabwe’s last hope for ensuring this year’s election has a semblance of order.

The commissioners led by Justice Geor

ge Chiweshe are expected to deliver, notwithstanding the apprehension among the opposition and civic society regarding the composition of the team — especially its chair.

The government appointed the team to ensure that Zimbabwe complies with the requirements of the Grande Baie declaration of last August on the conduct of democratic elections. But one can be forgiven for saying that the last thing the government wants is a totally independent commission — that is independent from Zanu PF’s political clutches.

Evidence is emerging that Zanu PF’s list of nominees included apologists of the establishment who failed to make it onto the commission as more acceptable nominees were eventually approved for the final list.

That the selection of the commissioners came as a result of consensus between Zanu PF and the opposition MDC, albeit after a good measure of horsetrading, is a useful development in easing political tension between the two parties. It would however be naïve to believe that Zanu PF is reforming as a political entity, ready to embrace the ethos of democratic practices. The party is still encrusted in archaic demagoguery and electoral graft as was demonstrated by the chaos which obtained in the primary election process, which have entered a third weekend instead of one day.

Zanu PF’s dead man’s grip on power is not likely to relent despite regional pressure and promises that Mugabe’s lieutenants will behave properly this time around. As Information minister Jonathan Moyo said last October: “None of the Sadc countries are going to legislate themselves out of power,” including Zimbabwe.
It therefore would be an exercise in futility for the MDC to try and wring any concessions out of Zanu PF.

There has been only glacial movement on the MDC’s 15 demands for the holding of free and fair elections. There has not been a word on the criminal role played by the Zanu PF militia in the election or the critical influence of security agencies in the running of elections.
Draconian pieces of legislation like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and its nefarious sibling, the Public Order and Security Act, for example, will not be repealed by March.

The new commission can however make a vast difference to the conduct of the election if it sticks to its mandate as specified by the Electoral Act.

The commissioners have to act quickly on the voters’ roll which is currently being compiled by the office of the Registrar-General — a perceived key component in the election-rigging machinery.

This will be the ultimate test of the commission — coming up with a register acceptable to all competing parties and availing it to the relevant people in time for them to scrutinise it and get its contents verified. The commission has to set ground rules for the competing political parties to deal with campaigning, violence and access to the media, among other issues. There is more. The commissioners have a huge task ahead of them to ensure that electoral laws are not changed on the eve of the polls as was the case in 2002.

It is crucial that the commission minimises complaints from participants during polls by dealing with these now. Poll challenges in court can be minimised if the events leading up to the polls are handled properly. The point has been made in the past and bears repeating: an election is a process, not an event as Zanu PF wants to pretend. Voting is merely the actualisation of a long process of democratic expression.
The commission is also tasked with processing applications for election observers. Its independence will be put to the test here. Will it pander to the whims of the president, who has said he will reject observers from countries beyond his perceived friends in the region?

The commission’s view on MPs who want to contest this year’s poll before the conclusion of electoral challenges to victories garnered in 2000 is also fundamental.

There is still a grey area in the role to be played by the RG’s office and the Electoral Supervisory Commission in relation to the ZEC.

It would be another sad day in our history if Tobaiwa Mudede, who already has a foot in the door by virtue of compiling the voters’ roll, is allowed to hold sway in the conduct of the polls.

There is a lot of work between now and the yet-to-be announced election date. A lot is expected of the commission against time fast slipping away. But that is no reason for failure. Zimbabwe cannot endure further international isolation stemming from another dubious electoral outcome.

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