Candid Comment: Without reforms, the spectre of 2008 looms

Leonard Makombe

 

WHEN writing about elections at a time like this, one has to resist the pull to compare what is happening in Ivory Coast with what happened in Zimbabwe in 2008 or Kenya the year before. It is a very strong pull that can be resisted, but only at the risk of failing to address the problem of elections in most of the countries in the developing world in general and Zimbabwe in particular.

 

What has happened in Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zimbabwe since 2007 gives credence to the anarchist assertion that: “If elections worked, they would have banned them,” as the polls held in the three countries have not been an instrument for electing representatives based on popular will.
Instead, elections were a farce, setting precedents for the whole continent which is likely to further slow down the democratisation process which in many cases was set in motion at the end of the colonial period.

 

In Zimbabwe, given the institutional complexity of representative systems, it is logical that a water-tight electoral system is put in place to avoid situations where elections are described as a “sham”, “not free and fair” or “rigged”.

Electoral reform is top of the “to do” list of the government of national unity and despite the confusion around when the next poll will be held, it has to be completed as soon as possible.

However, it is always good to ascertain what is wrong with the current electoral laws and see how they could be improved.

Political parties have, including Zanu PF in 1980, complained of the skewed nature of the electoral framework, perceived as open to fraud and in favour of those administering them.

More than three decades later, political parties continue to raise the same issues, arguing that the electoral laws hinder the conduct of free and fair elections, itself a vital process in a democracy.

Thus it should have been refreshing to hear that the inclusive government, through Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, plans to make wholesale changes to the contentious laws.

However, the freshness would be transient as a cursory look at the proposed amendments show that the security sector, itself a candidate for reforms, would continue to play a major role when the country goes to vote.

Proposed amendments, in the spirit of maintaining law and order, would see the appointment of special police liaison officers who should be senior personnel.

Maintenance of law and order, it has to be conceded, is paramount but what worries anyone who has been following the country’s elections is that the police have played a partisan role and should not be allowed to go on doing so.

What makes this worse is that the senior officers would be appointed by the Commissioner-General, in this case Augustine Chihuri who last year said something like: “It made no sense to change governments through a pen, by casting ballots, which cost less than five cents.”

The question therefore is what brief the Commissioner-General would give to the special liaison officers? In fact, giving the police a special role, when their hands are already dirty could spoil the whole election process.

It is also important to note that the issue of violence should be addressed in advance and never in retrospect and as such, amendments to the electoral laws should be clear on the definition of violence and the consequences to perpetrators.

Electoral violence runs like a thread in most African elections and the best way is to have enough deterrence, by having heavy penalties in place and not giving perpetrators of violence an incentive to beat up, maim or even kill opponents.