THE sweeping electoral law reform
s proposed by the ruling Zanu PF last Friday have been met with a mixture of public approval and scepticism.
Political analysts said while the envisaged reforms — which were apparently prompted by inter-party talks and regional pressure — were welcome, there were still lingering questions over the autonomy of the proposed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the state of the broad political climate.
Analysts said although they backed the changes in principle, they were at the same time aware that the devil lay in the detail.
They said the ZEC would by no means be sufficiently independent if its chairperson was appointed by an interested party, President Robert Mugabe. The analysts also said it was clear the reforms would not address issues such as the poisoned political environment and violence associated with elections.
National Constitutional Assembly chairman and University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the planned reforms were superficial and would not bring any sea change as expected by some.
“The proposed reforms are not fundamental and will therefore not bring any meaningful change,” Madhuku said. “They are actually old wine in a new bottle. What is needed in Zimbabwe is fundamental constitutional reform which will overhaul the system in its entirety and usher in a new democratic dispensation.”
Madhuku said tinkering with the electoral laws in isolation would not make any real difference. “These are piecemeal reforms designed to ensure Mugabe’s political survival. They are no different from the botched constitutional reform process a few years ago,” he said.
“As long there is no change in political culture and repressive laws like Posa (Public Order & Security Act) and Aippa (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) remain, nothing will change at the end of the day.”
UZ political scientist John Makumbe said although some aspects of the reforms were positive, they would, however, not level the electoral playing field.
“There are some positive changes but certainly they will not level the playing field,” Makumbe said. “It is positive to have the elections in one day, to use transparent ballot boxes and have counting done at polling centres. But the results will still be taken to the National Command Centre and that is where rigging takes place.”
Makumbe said the National Command Centre was the hub of election rigging and needed to be dismantled. “It happened in 2002 and we have the evidence to prove it in a court of law,” he said.
Brian Kagoro, chairman of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an alliance of civic groups, described the electoral changes as “cosmetic”. Rather than changing the content of electoral law, he said, efforts should be made to change the political culture and conditions for elections.
Kagoro said this could be achieved through the “opening up of democratic space, which allows political parties and civil groups to operate freely”.
According to Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs, Patrick Chinamasa’s draft proposal for electoral reforms presented to the ruling party’s politburo last Friday, the ZEC will be publicly-funded and accountable to parliament.
The ZEC will replace the current Electoral Supervisory Commission which is administered by government through Chinamasa’s Justice ministry. It will have a total of five members appointed by the president from a list of nine persons nominated by a parliamentary committee composed of members of all political parties represented in parliament. The ZEC chairperson will be appointed by Mugabe.
The commission will recruit its own secretariat, including the chief electoral officer. Chinamasa proposed that the current staff at the Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede’s office be transferred out of the Public Service Commission to ZEC which “can then set up its own recruitment structures thereafter”.
Makumbe said this was simply unacceptable because it would defeat the whole idea of reform. He said a new electoral agency would need untainted hands to guarantee its credibility.
“The president should not appoint the chairperson of the proposed commission because he is an interested party. That person should be appointed by parliament strictly on the basis of merit,” Makumbe said.
Malawi’s Election Commission members are appointed by the president for a four-year term. The chairperson, a judge, is nominated by the Judicial Service Commission.
South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission consists of five members, one of whom is a judge, appointed by the president for a seven-year term from a list of names submitted by an independent panel of parliament.
Analysts say while the appointment system of electoral commissions is almost the same throughout the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), the problem was that the Zimbabwean reforms were coming in the midst of a deep political and economic crisis in which polarisation along party lines was very deep.
They say Mugabe would make his appointments with the morbid fear of possible defeat in elections gripping his mind. This would almost certainly eliminate any chance of impartiality in his appointments.
The Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which informed Chinamasa’s proposals, require the establishment of impartial electoral bodies.
Sadc member states are required to “establish impartial, all-inclusive, competent, and accountable national electoral bodies staffed by qualified personnel, as well as competent legal entities including effective constitutional courts to arbitrate in the event of disputes arising from the conduct of elections”.
They also have an obligation to “safeguard human and civil liberties of all citizens, including freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression and campaigning”.
Furthermore, Sadc member states should “take necessary measures and precautions to prevent the perpetration of fraud, rigging, or any other illegal practices throughout the whole electoral process”.
Makumbe said Zimbabwe’s elections would not be free and fair unless the political environment was rid of “pervasive political repression, thuggish Zanu PF militias, political violence, intimidation, illegal no-go areas during campaigns, vote-buying, rigging and fraud”.
He said state security forces — considered the decisive factor during the hotly-disputed 2002 presidential election — should not be allowed to dabble in elections, except guaranteeing voters’ safety.
Madhuku said the media — both state-owned and independent — should be freed from tyrannical shackles to give all political parties an opportunity to air their views and market their policies without undue restrictions during electioneering.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) welcomed the electoral reform proposals but rejected the idea of Mugabe appointing the ZEC chairperson.
MDC secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, said while the ZEC was needed, his party did not agree with the proposal for Mugabe to choose its head. “The MDC believes that in order to have an independent electoral commission the method of appointment must be a subject of negotiation by all stakeholders including civil society, the MDC and Zanu PF,” Ncube said. “Consequently the MDC is opposed to the appointment system, which might lead to a commission that is completely subservient to Zanu PF like the Media and Information Commission led by Tafataona Mahoso.”
Zanu PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira said the changes were good because “the entire electoral process will be handled by the new commission — we will have nothing to do with it”.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said it was imperative to have credible and sound electoral institutions because free and fair elections were the key to democratic and national development.