Election reforms clip police powers

Alfonce Mbizwo

 

JUSTICE minister Patrick Chinamasa has proposed to dilute police powers by limiting their involvement in elections, tackling political violence and granting comprehensive powers to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to administer the country’s voting process.

 

A sixth draft Electoral Amendment Bill of 2010 by Chinamasa, seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, proposes to reduce the role of the police in elections to that of maintaining order at polling stations and even then, under the orders of the presiding officer.

 

The intended electoral reforms would be part of the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed between President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara in September 2008. The GPA gave birth to the inclusive government in February 2009.

The draft Bill was sent to Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC-M negotiators of the GPA for their input before it is tabled before the cabinet committee on legislation. The reforms are meant to create a conducive environment for free and fair elections in line with Sadc’s Mauritius guidelines on democratic polls.

It is not clear when Zimbabwe will hold fresh polls with Mugabe and Zanu PF insisting elections should be held by June, while the MDC-T says they can only be held after democratic reforms have been undertaken and the GPA fully consummated.

“Police shall have the sole function of maintaining order and preventing contraventions of the law so that voters may freely cast their votes” and “shall not interfere with the electoral processes at a polling station,” reads the proposed Bill.

They are also barred from entering a polling station unless called upon for assistance or to cast their votes. The police Commissioner-General would have to appoint special police liaison officers and special investigation committees in provincial centres to expeditiously deal with cases of politically-motivated violence or intimidation in each province.

The Bill proposes that such special liaison officers would be senior police officers who would work closely with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and a multi-party liaison committee during the election period.

Incidences of violence would be probed by a ZHRC-appointed special investigations committee, which would include the special liaison officer, two representatives of political parties and a ZHRC commissioner.

Magistrates and prosecutors would be designated to handle cases of political violence and would be expected to give priority to such cases. Those convicted of electoral violence could be banned from being registered as voters for five years.

The Bill proposes to give Zec powers to accredit both local and foreign observers, monitor media election coverage and conduct voter education.
Zec would be empowered to establish an Observer Accreditation Committee that would be charged with the responsibility of accrediting individuals representing foreign countries or international and local organisations who have applied to be accepted as observers or invited by Zec.

The Bill also proposes to give Zec more responsibility on voter education and bans foreign organisations from providing any voter education, while local organisations have to have their material vetted by the commission.

Such organisations would also be required to disclose their sources of funding. The commission could ban materials it deems “offensive”, “misleading”, or likely to “prevent a substantial number of voters from making any informed political choice in an election.”

The Bill proposes that political parties and candidates be held accountable for the behaviour of their members in the run-up to and during elections.
The country’s last four elections in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 were marred by violence and claimed scores of lives and left many more people maimed or disabled.

“Every office bearer of a political party that is contesting an election and every candidate and election agent shall take appropriate measures to prevent politically-motivated violence and any electoral malpractices,” read the proposed Bill.

The parties shall “take effective steps to discipline all members of the party who engage in politically-motivated violence or who commit any electoral malpractice before, during and after the election period.”

Chinamasa has proposed that a presidential run-off should be held not less than 21 days and not more than 63 days after the last.
Parties would be banned from campaigning or advertising at least 24 hours before elections.

Among other provisions, the Bill proposes that public broadcasters afford free access to political parties and independent candidates contesting in the elections. It recommends a “fair and balanced allocation of time between each political party and independent candidate” and that “each political party and independent candidate is allowed a reasonable opportunity to present a case through the broadcasting service concerned.”

While the broadcast and print media would not be obliged to air or publish any political adverts, they have to offer same terms and conditions to all parties “without discrimination.”

There are proposals for illiterate or handicapped voters who would be allowed to seek the assistance of another registered voter to assist in casting their vote in the presence of two electoral officers, an observer or employees of Zec.

New amendments include proposals to penalise the so-called “purported publication of results prior to official announcement”.

“No office bearer or member of a political party shall purport to declare and announce the results of any election before it has been declared officially by an electoral officer,” the Bill reads.

Anyone found breaching this clause would be guilty of an offence and may be fined or imprisoned for up to six months.