Major shake-up at Zec critical before 2018 polls

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THE findings by international elections consultant Rushdi Nackerdien in his research on the operation of the country’s constitutional electoral body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), are mostly common cause as they dovetail with concerns long in the public domain.

Candid Comment Stewart Chabwinja

The findings, released at a Harare stakeholders meeting on Tuesday, are contained in a report titled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Identification of Needs Gaps — The Road to 2018.

Indeed, the road to the 2018 elections has already started but there is scant evidence the opposition, which perennially cries foul over the manner elections are conducted and hence the disputed outcomes, is generating the right noises to ensure national elections for once pass the credibility test.

Current efforts appear too sporadic and uncoordinated to stand any chance of producing the desire effect.

As one would expect, the report raises concerns about the late release of funds for the procurement and despatch of materials in last year’s July 31 general elections due to poor funding.

As first reported in this paper last year, this resulted in the flouting of tender procedures, spawning corruption during the procurement process. But there are more pertinent issues. The research among others takes issue with the use of police officers — widely deemed beholden to ruling party Zanu PF — in assisting voters as “it may unduly influence the manner in which they vote”; the printing of excess ballot papers and the need to strengthen laws on media monitoring during polls to ensure balanced, fair and equitable coverage of electoral issues, especially the public media as it is funded from public resources.

The report stresses the state broadcaster, ZBC, needs to increase access by opposition parties and the liberalisation of radio and television ownership must be increased, while increased civil society involvement in the conduct of civic and voter education remains critical.

But at the present rate, the same old Zec problems are likely to be replicated at the 2018 elections, resulting in what has become standard Zimbabwean election fare: rigging allegations from the opposition.

Despite repeated warnings during the inclusive government, the opposition let slip a golden opportunity to transform the electoral landscape heavily tilted in Zanu PF’s favour by, among other omissions, failing to push for reforms at Zec staffed by state spies. Only for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to cite rigging when Mugabe triumphed under contentious circumstances even he was part of the government.

It could be that the opposition and civil society are also spellbound by the messy succession drama playing out in Zanu PF, but the report makes it clear Zec also has succession issues.

“Of the 102 staff members at Zec, their average is 54, and this means the organisation has to seriously look at staff retention, as well as succession planning,” it says.

Thus the reforms needed at Zec are multifarious and the sooner they are effected, the better the chances elections cease to be a mere ritual due to predetermined outcomes. A good start would of course be the realignment of electoral laws with the new constitution.

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