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GPA reform relegated to back burner

WHEN Zanu PF and the two MDC formations signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008 ahead of the formation of the unity government in February 2009, most Zimbabweans pinned their hopes on the pact to usher in a democratic dispensation that would allow credible, free and fair polls.

Report by Brian Chitemba

Most of Zimbabwe’s elections, especially since 2002, have been marred by allegations of an environment heavily tilted in favour of former ruling party Zanu PF as well as vote-rigging, widespread intimidation and violence, resulting in contested outcomes.

Four years into the GPA the 24 major reforms the three unity government protagonists — Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC — agreed to implement seem to have been forgotten as they squabble over the contents of a new constitution.

According to the GPA implementation matrix, issues that should have been implemented by now include regularisation of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) board and re-appointment of a new Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation board.

As part of media reforms, the parties agreed that public media — ZBC and Zimpapers — would refrain from hate speech against Zanu PF’s political foes while it was also part of the pact that Baz would open up the airwaves to increase the democratic space. Instead, Baz has been accused of licensing radio stations — ZiFM and Star FM — with Zanu PF links.

The parties further agreed the National Security Council should meet on the first Friday of each month, but that has not been happening, while the controversial Joint Operations Command (Joc), which was supposed to be disbanded, continues to meet.

Joc, which brings together the army, police and intelligence chiefs stands accused of planning and perpetrating violence on behalf of Zanu PF.

There has been increasing silence from the three parties on these critical democracy enablers with the major battles in the inclusive government being largely concentrated on the disbursement of funds for voter registration and political point scoring.

While conditions for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe largely hinge on implementation of agreed GPA reforms, hunger for political power seems to have overtaken the urgency of the reforms.

Even the weekly GPA principals’ meetings have largely lost relevance as they focus mainly on issues outside the crucial reforms.

The principals’ meeting held in Harare on Monday, for example, discussed allocation of funds for voter education and the constitution-making process. Nothing about levelling the political playing field, particularly as elections are expected this year was discussed.

Last week, a furious Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) summoned acting Finance minister Theresa Makone, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) vice-chairperson Joyce Kazembe to a tense meeting to deliberate on delays in releasing funding for voter registration.

Political pundits allege Tsvangirai and his MDC counterpart, Welshman Ncube, have now abandoned the issue of outstanding GPA issues, instead allowing themselves to be stampeded into elections expected later this year.

Senior researcher on Zimbabwe and Southern Africa with the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, says the parties have now focused only on one aspect of reforms — securing an agreement on the necessary legal and administrative requirements for elections.
“However, little attention has been paid to the implementation of the agreed reforms and to securing agreement and ensuring reforms on areas where agreement has not been reached,” said Mavhinga.

“The unity government has unfortunately neglected the enforcement of various agreements that would facilitate a rights-respecting environment and the holding of credible, free, and fair elections.”

Mavhinga said the inclusive government was still to implement key issues like the promotion of equality, national healing and unity, introduction of police training programmes on matters relating to the rights of freedom to assembly and association, and prioritising a legislative agenda to reflect the letter and spirit of the GPA.

The election roadmap agreed on by Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC in July 2011 and meant to pave way for free and fair elections remains largely unimplemented and virtually forgotten.

The parties agreed on the roadmap to craft “milestones and signposts that must be executed and implemented before the next election”.
These include the constitutional process, media reforms, electoral reforms, rule of law, freedom of association and assembly, a legislative agenda, and logistical preparations for the actual election, including voter registration and accreditation of observers.

The political parties have remained deadlocked on the staffing of Zec as well as security sector reforms, as Zanu PF has flatly refused to entertain any demands on the issues saying those are no-go areas.

The failure to incorporate the entire GPA into law, Mavhinga said, meant the agreement together with the roadmap to elections remains a document of political aspirations with no legal status.

Mavhinga added that its implementation was hampered by the fact that it was dependent on political will for enforcement of its provisions.
Political commentator Rodrick Fayayo argued that political parties have made a crucial mistake by rushing through the constitution-making process because of a push for elections.

The election rush, Fayayo said, was likely to compromise a number of important issues that are supposed to be enshrined in the governance charter.

“A constitution is for posterity and we can’t afford to rush through for the purposes of simply wanting to complete it,” said Fayayo.
“If push comes to shove and people cannot agree and feel they should have elections at whatever cost, it would be better to put aside the constitution-making exercise and then devote as much time as possible to this very important document at a later stage.”

However, Bulawayo-based human rights lawyer, Kucaca Phulu is of another opinion.

“The voters’ roll is key. All other reforms will work if people register to vote,” said Phulu. “Historically voter apathy has influenced elections even more than intimidation and other factors.”

With so much of Zimbabwe’s immediate future riding on a free and fair election, chances are that by ignoring reforms, the unity government parties could be scoring a spectacular own goal in the form of yet another disputed election.

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