Comment

Removing rubble from the electoral road


M

OST Zimbabweans will welcome the electoral reforms approved by Zanu PF’s politburo last Friday. They will now go to cabinet before parliament debates them.


The proposals follow close-ly the Southern African De-velopment Community’s draft principles and guidelines on democratic elections which are due to be endorsed at Sadc’s Mauritius summit in August.


They are also in accord with the Sadc parliamentary forum’s electoral norms and standards which Zimbabwe has approved but not given practical effect to.


Most of the reforms approved last week can be found in the MDC’s 15 demands for electoral reform published earlier this year, recently condensed into five.


But it is pressure from Sadc that has almost certainly prodded the ruling party to accept changes that it has hitherto refused to contemplate, including the central proposal for an independent supervisory body.


Sadc leaders, and in particular South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, would have had difficulty endorsing Zanu PF’s anticipated electoral victory in March so long as Zimbabwe remained out of step with the rest of the region on electoral management. When Sadc heads meet in Mauritius next month Mbeki will be able to point to Zimbabwe’s reforms and claim a victory for quiet diplomacy.


And he will have every reason to be satisfied. Zanu PF has come a long way in accepting conditions — on paper at least — that would have stuck in its partisan throat only six months ago. After all, only recently Patrick Chinamasa was seeking to tighten Zanu PF’s grip on the electoral process and declaring his opposition to reform.


Hopefully, when the proposals come before parliament, MPs will question the president’s powers of appointment to the electoral commission and address the other anomalies such as the role of the National Command Centre.


Zanu PF’s inability to proceed by consensus is illustrated by the way these measures went before its communist-era politburo before being agreed by stakeholders. Bad old habits evidently die hard.


But the most salient criticism in all this must be Sadc’s failure to address the poisonous political climate in Zimbabwe which renders any electoral reform pointless. Zanu PF’s militias still roam the land, Posa prevents the opposition from holding rallies, and there is no access for the opposition to the public media.


The recent debate in parliament where Zanu PF MPs accused the opposition of treachery because their supporters abroad exercised their right to protest illustrates the depth of the democratic deficit in Zimbabwe.


These are issues for those drafting the Sadc guidelines which will not go away. The danger here is that Mbeki and his colleagues may assume they have no more work to do now the electoral reforms are headed for the statute book.


It is difficult to believe that Mbeki could forget about Posa and Aippa having repeatedly assured the world of their imminent repeal last year.


But Sadc leaders may be preparing to nod through a flawed election on the grounds that the electoral system has been cleaned up and political violence has diminished.


It is clear from remarks made by the outgoing British ambassador recently that the British and Americans are being briefed on progress on political reform. Mbeki, we can safely suppose, is keeping them informed in order to hold them at arm’s length to propitiate President Mugabe’s prickly nationalist sensitivities.


But it will be difficult to keep “imperialist” observers out when a properly independent electoral commission, responsible for accrediting observers, is finally appointed.


Anti-imperialist hot air is the price we must pay in the meantime for meaningful reform.


Whatever the obstacles on the road to free and fair elections, one big boulder is being rolled out of the way. Now we have to remove the rest of the rubble left in the road by years of manipulation, coercion and fraud.

Top