GOVERNMENT’S draft Bill to establish an independent electoral commission has been described as lacking key provisions to ensure its impartiality during elections, the New York-based
Human Rights Watch has said.
The Bill is currently being debated in parliament. Human Rights Watch said some provisions of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill fell short of the benchmarks for democratic elections agreed by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Mauritius in August.
“Zimbabwe’s move to establish an electoral commission is a step in the right direction,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.
“But this Bill fails to provide the protections needed to ensure a level playing field for next year’s general elections.”
Takirambudde said there were provisions in the Bill that impeded the creation of a fully independent and impartial electoral authority as envisaged in the Sadc principles on the holding of democratic elections.
“First, the method of appointing electoral commissioners does not provide for the sufficient inclusion of various political parties. Second, the Bill does not adequately restrict high-ranking political party office holders from being appointed as commissioners,” Takirambudde said.
He said the Bill also provided numerous opportunities for ministerial interference in the work of the commission. “Fourth, the establishment of the commission solely through an ordinary statute makes it vulnerable to repeal.”
He said Zimbabwe’s previous general election in June 2000 and its presidential election in March 2002 ended in sharp acrimony over the process and fairness of the result.
“In this heated and politically polarised environment, an independent and impartial electoral commission could help build voter confidence in the conduct of the upcoming election,” Takirambudde said.
He said the eligibility criteria for commissioners should include restrictions on the appointment of high-ranking political-party officials.
“Ministerial interventions in the operations of the commission should be removed and the commission should be made responsible only to parliament. A constitutionally mandated independent and impartial electoral commission would firmly establish these principles and the institution itself,” he said.
He said the Bill’s provisions on voter education infringed on Sadc’s principles and guidelines.
“Under the Bill, the commission would be empowered to require anyone, other than a political party, providing voter education to furnish it detailed information, including funding sources. Failure to comply would constitute a criminal offence, liable to a fine of up to two years of imprisonment.”