Clearing Zim’s blocked path to democracy

AHEAD of the June 2000 parliamentary elections, the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) produced a pre-election survey, which predicted that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would win 75 seats out of the 120 contested seats in Parliament then.

However, the MDC got 57 seats, Zanu PF 62 and Zanu Ndonga 1.

The late director of MPOI, Professor Masipula Sithole, accounted for the deficit in the predicted seats as a result of “the margin of terror as opposed to the margin of error” on the institute’s part.

That election was characterised by unprecedented violence and intimidation.  Civic organisations produced reports which indicated that voters were subjected to assaults, abductions, arson, rape and other forms of terror.  The same scenario of violence was witnessed in the disputed 2002 presidential election. In the June 2008 presidential run-off, the MDC reported that over 200 people were killed in incidents of political violence.

The result of that poll was rejected by both domestic and international players leading to inter-party negotiations that resulted in the signing of the global political agreement in September 2008 and later the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009.

Since the 2000 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe held two more parliamentary elections in 2005 and 2008 and two presidential elections 2002 and 2008. Like the 2000 poll, these subsequent elections have been characterised by violence, coercion and gross violations of human rights. 

Investigations by human rights groups indicate that more than 88% of these human rights abuses were attributed to groups sympathetic to the establishment.

The two most influential factors in all these elections have been the “margin of terror” and the unevenness of the political playing field.

The political playing field is uneven due to the constitutional architecture of Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe’s constitution facilitates the exercise of arbitrary power rather than its limitation.

According to Professor Jonathan Moyo, Voting for Democracy, Electoral Politics in Zimbabwe (1992), the constitution vests in the president “imperial powers”.  These “imperial powers” are a factor when the president — their repository — is an interested party in the contest for power.  The power of the president to legislate in emergency and electoral issues essentially means that he is a judge in his own cause, described by some as domestic imperialism. 

For instance, Section 158 of the Electoral Act says that the president can legislate on elections at any stage of the election process and it is this law that has been used in the past elections to alter polling days.

These excessive powers were used against the rights of citizens to disenfranchise the electorate ahead of the 2002 and 2008 presidential elections.
My argument relative to the electoral reforms agreed by players in the inclusive government is that the minimum conditions for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe have to address both the administration of elections and the political environment attendant to the holding of future elections. These could be addressed by doing the following:

 Dismantling the infrastructure of violence (eg “Green Bombers”) and political commitment not to resort to violence.
 Limitation of the presidential powers not only with respect to elections, but also to democratic rights of citizens.
 The executive’s power to legislate, especially on the Electoral Act, must be abolished as it is not consistent with a democratic political system.
 The employees of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) must be vetted to make sure that operatives are not partisan individuals from the army, police and the Central Intelligence Organisation as is currently the case. If this is not addressed the recently appointed ZEC will not serve any purpose.
 The ZEC should be seized with the delimitation of constituencies, a process that has been abused by the incumbent president to tinker with constituency boundaries to his advantage against other political players.
 A code of conduct that is agreed upon by all stakeholders, including the political contestants and civil society must be enacted.
 The airwaves must be freed from all political interference and control. A tripartite forum consisting of political parties and civil society organisations must monitor the freeness of the airwaves.  Alternatively, this function must be discharged by the election monitoring body.  As a demonstration of good faith, the government must repeal the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), which gives the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings a monopoly over the airwaves.
 The repeal of draconian legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and Access to Information and Protection and Privacy Act (Aippa) is one of the first steps any serious government should take towards democratising elections. These laws inhibit the exercise of democracy.
 The security service sector which includes the army, police, prisons and secret agencies should not be involved in partisan political processes, including taking part in politically motivated cases of violence as has been the trend in all elections since 1980. There is need to depoliticise and criminalise such conduct by the security apparatus. Making public statements supporting a political party and candidates as has been done by the security forces in 2002 and 2008 should be desisted from. Once that happens the culprits must be charged with treason for undermining and subverting the sovereign will of the people.

In my view, the recently announced electoral reforms, among  them the setting up of  a special body to receive complaints of politically motivated acts of violence to monitor and carry out investigations of such reports, as well as referring these allegations to the police for expeditious investigations and prosecution, are not adequate to address Zimbabwe’s blocked path to democracy.

These measures deal with the administration of elections but do not address the political environment attendant to the holding of free, fair and democratic elections. Most fundamentally, the parties to the unity government fail to address the glaring ubiquitous nature of the securocrats in the administration of elections.

It is not conceivable in my view to hold free, fair and democratic elections in Zimbabwe without demilitarising Zimbabwe’s electoral politics. There is also a misguided view by parties to the inclusive government that the Attorney-General’s office will play an impartial role. While there is nothing wrong with the prosecuting role of that office, the officer bearers in the present circumstances are toxic to

By Pedzisai Ruhanya