THE ruling Zanu PF is planning to introduce the much-touted proposed electoral reforms without consultation with key stakeholders, a move that is likely to increase criticism that it is ignor
ing recommendations by regional heads of state.
Zanu PF, through government, has adopted the recently drafted Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Bill – which will be gazetted today to usher in the changes – and plans to bulldoze it through parliament next month.
This would be in violation of the spirit of the Southern African Development Community principles and guidelines on democratic elections that call for consensus on such reforms.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday told diplomats in Harare that Zanu PF was not interested in serious electoral reforms.
He said the MDC decided to boycott elections because of rising repression and government’s unwillingness to discuss ways to implement the Sadc principles.
He cited the continued ban on MDC rallies, prevention of public demonstrations, violence and intimidation by Zanu PF militias, and suppression of civil and political liberties.
This week there were arrests of civic society and opposition activists for holding meetings deemed illegal.
Tsvangirai said as long as Zimbabwe had laws such as the Public Order & Security Act and the Access to Information & Protection of Privacy Act, it would be hard to have freedom of assembly, association and expression.
“Fear is now endemic, especially in the rural areas, thus destroying the confidence of the people in the electoral process. Some say we rushed into the decision to suspend our participation in elections,” Tsvangirai said.
“They argue that we should have given the government a chance to implement the Mauritius protocol. Our answer is simple. We say look at the political facts and the political reality on the ground.”
The MDC two weeks ago suspended participation in future elections pending the implementation of Sadc principles in full.
A conference convened by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Electoral Institute of Southern African in August in Victoria Falls resolved that “electoral systems and processes should be established by consensus”.
However, since attempted talks between Zanu PF and the MDC failed in July, the ruling party appears determined to go it alone.
This has raised prospects of a head-on clash between the two parties over the proposed electoral changes and embarrassment for Zimbabwe regionally.
Official sources said the two parties were headed for a major confrontation in parliament next month over the Bill due to rising hostility. Sources predicted a heated debate in parliament because government will try to pass into law the electoral changes through a Bill and not through constitutional amendment as initially envisaged.
After failing to secure MDC support to amend the constitution and make the ZEC – which will run all future elections – an independent constitutional body, Zanu PF is now intent on using an Act of Parliament to introduce the changes.
Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa said yesterday that he would use the Bill to introduce the proposed reforms without amending the constitution.
“We will do it (make reforms) through the Bill. It will be gazetted in a few days or maybe tomorrow (Friday). We want to create an independent electoral commission to run elections,” Chinamasa said.
“We don’t need to amend the constitution to make these changes. We can do it through the Bill. There is no problem at all. Those who are making noise are people who are afraid of participating in elections.”
The introduction of reforms through the Bill means that the current Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) will remain in place. Chinamasa said the ESC would perform its current functions of supervising elections, while the ZEC would be added to the already cluttered electoral structures.
The chairman of the ZEC will be appointed by President Robert Mugabe in consultation with the Judicial Services Commission, something the MDC is vehemently opposed to.