THE European Union (EU) election exploratory team which was in country a fortnight ago to assess the pre-election conditions ahead of general elections later this year got the impression that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) will not go out of its way to ensure free, fair and credible polls, but will stick to basic minimal legal requirements, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Hazel Ndebele
The team, led by the bloc’s Head of Democracy and Support Unit Patrick Costello, met Zec and government officials, as well as civil society organisations and opposition parties, among other stakeholders.
Sources who interacted with the delegation said the team got the impression that Zec has taken a very legalistic approach towards the elections.
“The EU team is of the view that Zec is taking the approach of rule by law rather than rule of law. They will not go out of their way to promote transparency and fairness as long as it is not stipulated in the constitution. For instance, they will not act on unfair public media coverage until elections are proclaimed because to them that’s when the legally they should act,” said an official who met the team.
“On the ballot papers, for example, Zec will not allow opposition parties to monitor the printing and distribution of ballot papers because it is not a legal requirement. But there is nothing wrong with inviting them to see the conceptualisation, design printing and distribution. It enhances transparency. Legally, the voters’ roll should be available once it is gazetted, which will be too late for corrections, but Zec will not avail it earlier because the law does not require them too. They have taken a legalistic approach and will stick to the bare minimum.”
Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba told our sister paper NewsDay this week that although opposition political parties wanted the voters’ roll to be audited by a team of professionals, such is not provided for in the law.
“The request was made that Zec undertakes an audit of the voters’ roll by engaging chartered accountants and our response was that, the auditing of the voters’ roll was provided for in the law and as Zec, we shall produce a provisional voters’ roll, which shall be subjected to the electorate for inspection and correction,” Chigumba said.
Moreover the EU team, according to officials who met them, is of the impression that Zec will make token reforms to the Electoral Act which will just be there to accommodate technical changes brought about by the shift to the Biometric Voter Registration programme.
“They are not expecting much changes. Even retrogressive laws such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Public Order and Security Act are likely to be remain. Therefore you will just see technical changes to accommodate BVR,” the source said.
The EU team, according to sources, is not going to produce a public report for its pre-election assessment, but instead will produce an internal report which will be used by the 28-member block to determine the feasibility and usefulness of deploying an observer mission.