HomePoliticsSadc electoral protocol undergoes test

Sadc electoral protocol undergoes test

Gift Phiri

THE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) principles and guidelines governing elections stand little chance of being implemented in all 13 member states in forthcoming elections.

While some countries have used the same principles as those adopted at the Sadc summit in Mauritius in August, others are yet to comply with the regional principles on how to conduct free and fair elections.

Elections are due in several countries in the region such as Botswana (October), Mozambique (December), Namibia (November/December) Democratic Republic of Congo (next year), and Zimbabwe in March. President Thabo Mbeki who chairs the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security has said that southern African countries that do not abide by the protocol might be kicked out of the regional body.

Mbeki is tasked with ensuring that forthcoming elections in the region are free and fair. Political analysts said Zimbabwe and DRC were unlikely to comply with the Sadc principles. They, however, said a lot depended on the attitude of the sitting governments.

Multi-party democratic elections, not well-rooted in some southern African nations, are “old hat” in Botswana where voters are expected to cast their ballots in October to choose a new president and 40 MPs to govern them for the next five years.

An Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has been in place for some time. A spokesperson for the IEC was recently quoted in a Botswana paper asserting the electoral body’s independence.

“I would like to stress the IEC’s independence. Our job is to run the election in its entirety. As an independent body we talk about issues, not politics,” the spokesperson said.

Political analyst Professor Elphas Mukonoweshuro said Botswana was a model of democracy.

“They have held elections generally regarded as free and fair since their independence, with no violence and no abuse of state apparatus,” Mukonoweshuro said. “To all intents and purposes, Botswana is a leading democracy in the sub-region.”

The opposition parties that include the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) and a few smaller parties, have equal access to the public media.

The country’s sole daily paper, the Daily News, a tabloid published by the Ministry of Information, recently published the manifestos of the three main parties in a centre-spread. The government-controlled Botswana Press Association and Radio Botswana also cover opposition parties. There are a few small commercial radio stations that carry mostly music. On the other hand, there are four lively and very independent commercial weekly tabloids that publish considerable political news as well as a mix of other information.

Foreign minister Mompati Merafhe said Botswana was poised to hold “good and free and fair elections” in October.

“Everything on our side is running smoothly. We keep by the provisions of the law,” he said.

Since the adoption of the Sadc protocol, the Mozambique election campaign has reportedly been “running smoothly, without violence, and with general goodwill – although with little enthusiasm, already pointing to a low turnout”. The country is running notices advising its foreign-based citizens to register to vote. The election is scheduled for December.

Reports say the government has already issued an order that coverage by the national Radio Mozambique be balanced, and fair coverage is given to all players in the election to ensure that everything is done in the true spirit of the Sadc protocol.

The state-owned press is however said to be biased toward Frelimo but it has started giving coverage to the opposition Renamo. The government has repeatedly said that electoral laws should be approved by both main parties in the assembly and not by a 51% majority.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition chairman Brian Kagoro said Mozambique was a salutary case.

“Mozambique has a background of recent conflict,” Kagoro said. “But the opposition Renamo has been accommodated as the official opposition. Rarely do we hear that Renamo MPs have been treated with the contempt and disrespect that local MPs are treated with.”

Minister of State Administration, Jose Chichava, has promised that before the election there will be electoral law reforms in line with the Sadc guidelines.

The country has started discussions to discard the CNE (Comissão Nacional de Eleições; (National Election Commission) and (Secretariado Técnico de Administração Eleitoral; (Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration) that have been running elections.

However, not all Sadc members are necessarily on the right track. President Robert Mugabe has been criticised by the international community for draconian laws that incapacitate the opposition. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has vowed to boycott all elections until the government meets the regional election standards, ends political violence and repeals repressive media and security laws.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been lobbying the 13 member countries of Sadc to force Zimbabwe to conform to the election protocols signed by Mugabe in August.

“Sadc must prove it has teeth. Sadc must push Mugabe to honour his word, and to do so early enough for us to have our elections in March,” Tsvangirai said.

Since signing the protocol at the Sadc summit in Mauritius, the Zimbabwean government has announced a series of planned electoral reforms, but the opposition says they don’t go far enough to conform to the regional standards.

Mukonoweshuro said Zimbabwe was unlikely to fully comply with the Sadc principles on elections.

“Zimbabwe cannot pretend to be implementing any meaningful reforms when the root of survival of this government is legislation that does not belong in a democracy,” he said.

“Firstly, they should repeal Posa (Public Order and Security Act) and Aippa (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act). I don’t think implementing the guidelines should be left to the free will of the government alone. The opposition should also play a leading role and I don’t see that happening.”

Mukonoweshuro pointed out that while Namibia’s leadership shared Zanu PF’s revolutionary profile, the country would adopt the guidelines.

“Yes, the leadership is radical in posture,” Mukonoweshuro said. “But it is not engaged in the level of repression that their Zimbabwean counterparts are engaged in. They are likely to embrace the protocol. The real problem is the growth of the opposition. And Namibia is not bad in its treatment of the opposition.”

In the DRC, democracy and elections have never seen the light of day and newly established norms on electoral procedures stand little hope of being implemented in the near future.

Despite delays in the legislature, United Nations officials say general elections in the DRC could still be held in 2005 in line with last year’s all-inclusive peace agreement that ended nearly five years of war in the vast central African country.

“Most of the laws governing the conduct of elections remain to be enacted,” William Swing, head of the UN Mission in the DRC, said.

Mauritius Prime Minister Paul Berenger, who is also the new chairperson of Sadc, said the guidelines were an expression of the region’s commitment to democracy and freedom.

“We have observed the holdingof successful elections in Malawiand South Africa early this year,” he said in his closing remarks at the Mauritius summit. “Later this year Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia will be going to the polls. The United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe are expected to hold elections next year. This is indeed a clear expression of the region’s commitment to democracy.”

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