HomeBusiness Digest‘Electoral reforms only half the battle’

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PROPOSED electoral reforms, agreed on by parties to the global political agreement (GPA), only cover half the distance to democratic, free and fair elections as some are unlikely to be enforced.

Parties to the GPA agreed to reform election administration, proposing sweeping legal changes as well as setting up a new body to look into allegations of violence as they strive to make elections more credible.
Under the reforms there will be special courts at the magistrates’ level to try cases of politically motivated violence committed before, during and after elections.

Negotiators representing Zanu PF and the two MDC formations proposed that a law be provided to ban candidates convicted of politically motivated violence from participating in elections.
The three political parties, in an attempt to eliminate rigging, agreed to other proposals touching on counting of ballots, invitation of observers, delimitation of constituencies and preparation, access and use of the voters’ roll.

These reforms cover areas identified as major loopholes in the country’s electoral system which may be manipulated and have led to claims of rigging and disputed elections, especially after 2000.
On paper the new measures appear like the right medicine for the country’s ailing electoral system but analysts are sceptical.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, said the reforms would work only if they were to be applied to all political parties.

“One would hope that penalties are applied to those found guilty as is the case in some countries where political parties are penalised through the political parties financing laws and forfeit some of their funding,” said Chipfunde-Vava. “However, this works when the commission running the election is independent and in the case of Zimbabwe we have a mixed model.”

Analysts said focusing on the administrative side of elections would not lead to free and fair elections as some of these reforms have either been tried or are dormant within the current electoral laws.
Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (Zimcet) acting programmes manager Charles Sithole said banning candidates as proposed may not be practical “as some of the perpetrators of violence are high-profile politicians who may not be touched”.

Stakes are very high in an election and no political party would accept having their candidate banned and as such, Sithole said, other measures ensuring free and fair elections should be brought in.
He suggested adhering to the Southern African Development Committee (Sadc) Principles and Guidelines on elections as the starting point.

Sadc guidelines include full participation of citizens in an election, political tolerance, freedom of association, equal opportunity for all political parties to access the public media, independence of the judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions, and acceptance of outcomes.

Analysts agreed that there must be a mix of legal and administrative reforms on the one hand and the creation of an enabling environment facilitating the holding of free and fair elections on the other.
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) political science professor and lecturer John Makumbe said meaningful electoral reforms should start by making the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) a full time body.
“ZEC should have a full-time secretariat which is consistently informing the electorate on the complaints they are receiving, what is happening to the local authorities and which constituencies have lost representation as well as who represents which constituency,” said Makumbe. “As it is now, ZEC is largely a part-time body and only comes alive during an election.”

Makumbe said it is only after the electoral commission becomes more active, even when there are no elections, that an enabling environment for free and fair elections is guaranteed.

Chipfunde-Vava said ZEC should have its own funds and not rely on the Finance minister who is also a participant in the elections. This eliminates the executive interference in the affairs of the electoral commission. Another UZ political science professor and lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said the reforms should not concentrate on the administrative side since it was also necessary to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections.

“The environment must be free of violence, intimidation and fear and there should be favourable exchange of information and an array of freedoms and rights which are ingredients to free and fair elections,” said Masunungure.

These freedoms and rights, he said, would include freedom of association and right to information.
Masunungure said it made no sense to have the best laws governing the running of elections in an environment which is not conducive to democratic, free and fair elections, especially after the violence and intimidation experienced in 2008.

“This is where the Organ on National Healing should be playing a decisive and critical role and do its job effectively,” said Masunungure. “So far, it appears to me that the organ (on national healing) is rather delinquent and has not acquitted itself. This culture of fear seems to me to be embedded within the people.”

Makumbe suggested that changes to the Electoral Act should do away with the provision that only civil servants should administer elections.

“There should be a mix of civil servants and the civic society,” Makumbe said. “This has been done in other countries and it is possible. Those involved in the administration of elections should swear to an oath of honesty and be prosecuted if they violate it.”
Makumbe said delimitation of constituencies must be done based on the number of registered voters in a constituency.

“There should be a demographic equality in all constituencies because if we have gross inequality, for example having 11 000 registered voters in Sunningdale and 42 000 registered voters in Muzarabani, then it would be easier to rig in the latter where the turnout is likely to be low,” said Makumbe.
It has been alleged that there are times when delimitations are done in a way that strengthens one political party and at the same time dilutes the support of others.

Makumbe said the civic society’s role should not be limited to voter education, but should address other critical issues on elections –– an area they have not been allowed to venture into in the past.
Civic society, Makumbe added,

should highlight the likely pitfalls and areas of exclusion and why it is so, thus enabling the voters to make an informed choice which is a pillar of democratic elections.
Sithole said civic society should take advantage of the prevailing environment and play a more active role to educate the electorate.


Leonard Makombe

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