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‘Credible elections only possible after reforms’

ZIMBABWE will not be ready for elections in eight months time because the national healing process is yet to take effect and democratic reforms are still to be implemented, analysts said this week.

They said credible, free and fair elections could only be held after addressing issues which have dented the credibility of the last elections held in 2008.
Past elections have been marred by political violence, intimidation, torture and abuse of state machinery by Zanu PF and its leader, President Robert Mugabe.Zimbabwe’s institutions are too weak and compromised to prevent state-sponsored violence or to deliver a democratic election, the analysts pointed out. Mugabe, who under the constitution sets the date for elections, last week said polls would be held by mid-next year, ending the marriage between the three main political parties in the inclusive government.
Elections have lost their elixir in Zimbabwe, analysts said, adding that credible elections could only be held after government implements substantive electoral reforms, cleans up the voters’ roll (which has thousands of ghost voters), entrenches national healing and allows for proper voter education.
The MDC wants the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to supervise elections to ensure full compliance with its 2004 Grande Baie principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, which include impartiality of electoral institutions, full public participation, prevention of state-sponsored violence and non-interference in electoral processes by the state security sector.
Harare-based analyst Trevor Maisiri, who is also executive director of the African Leadership Reform Institute, said eight months were too short a time to put Zimbabwe’s house in order.
“There are several factors that seem to work against this deadline,” said Maisiri. “Firstly we must realise the contentions that have been expressed with the state of the voters’ roll. If we are going to an election with the old voters’ roll which has lost credibility then we must also be aware of what outcome it may give us.”
Maisiri said the political violence which characterised past elections continued to threaten future polls as no “meaningful effort has been relayed into creating a peaceful, reconciliatory and integrative political environment in Zimbabwe”.
The Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration balked under the weight of the polarisation in the country and an ambiguous and hazy mandate which has seen it failing to record significant success. Another analyst, Psychology Mazivisa, said while the constitution and the GPA were supposed to play complementary roles, and this disjoint has contributed towards a failed national healing.
“The constitution contemplates a free, open and democratic society while the GPA specifically makes provision for an organ on national healing,” said Mazivisa. “However, in practice, our constitution is subservient to Mugabe. He is the law. As far as the organ on national healing is concerned it exists in name, but not in deed.”
Maisiri added that there was no guarantee that the electoral reforms proposed since the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009 would pass through parliament in time for the plebiscite as there “seems to be no time congruence for a comprehensive electoral legislative agenda”.
Takura Zhangazha, a political scientist, said a free and fair election could only be guaranteed after the full implementation of reforms agreed to by the political parties signatory to the GPA.
“Issues that must be addressed in order to arrive at a stage where free and fair elections can be held relate to initially an independent review of the reforms that the inclusive government has undertaken as regards national healing, elections and constitutional reform,” said Zhangazha.
Zhangazha added that it was possible to have a much “less ambiguous negotiation of the extension of the mandate of the inclusive government and GPA until the greater majority of the undemocratic tendencies of the inclusive government have been transparently addressed”.
The path towards the next elections appear jagged and littered with legal and political landmines which threaten to derail the staggering economic recovery.
Business was unequivocal last month, appealing to the political leadership to put elections on hold until a much firmer ground for economic recovery has been established. However, events in the last two weeks could drown their plea as both Mugabe and his bitter archrival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai appear to have gone for broke calling for an election. According to the GPA, a new constitution should come first, but of the problems which emerged during the constitutional outreach programme, there is now talk that the country might go for elections under a provisional legal framework or the current document. Analysts have, however, warned that such an arrangement, which would bring in a negotiated constitution leading to elections, would result in a messed-up process. There are also fears of violence breaking up before the polls.
“We do not write constitutions in order to go to elections, we write constitutions in order to lay a solid ground for current and future governance of nations,” said Maisiri. “So we are likely to have a situation where a quick-fix constitution may be intimated so as to allow the rollout of elections. How does one then govern after those elections on a constitution that would have primarily been meant for that very election?”

Leonard Makombe


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