Lack of reforms eroding credibility

BY FREEMAN MAKOPA

GOVERNMENT’S failure to implement electoral reforms poses a threat to the credibility of the 2023 elections, despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s repeated claims that elections will be free and fair.

There has been concern about the government’s failure to address the partisan conduct of state security agents, traditional leaders as well as the skewed coverage in favour of the ruling party by the state media.

Zanu PF acting political commissar Patrick Chinamasa recently claimed that the party was tied to the military to ensure its hegemony, leaving no doubt that the army was deeply entrenched in civil politics.

In the past elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) research found that security forces involvement in the electoral process, abusive laws that remain in effect, and violence and intimidation by the ruling party all contribute to an environment that is not conducive to free and fair elections.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said there was nothing wrong with the electoral laws but lack of implementation.

“There is nothing wrong with our electoral laws. The only issue is that they are not being observed.”

Eldred Masunungure, a politics professor at the University of Zimbabwe said the country has good electoral laws which are not being implemented, adding that it is only the legal framework that has some gaps which need to be resolved.

“We should facilitate a free and fair election which results in things that are not disputed. We are happy with the current electoral laws; we have good laws which are not being implemented and those working on revising the statutes should look at both pros and cons. In this case it is only the legal framework that has some gaps,” Masunungure said.

“The laws are good but need to be aligned to the constitution or in other words they need to be amended to be in line with the Constitution.”

Election Resource Centre (ERC) chairperson Trust Maanda told our sister publication, NewsDay that the 2023 elections were likely to be marred with the same disputes as the ones faced in 2018 if election reforms are not addressed. All of these laws have been used to arrest peaceful protesters and censor critical media. The lack of reform places a greater burden on the police to ensure that the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly are respected during the campaign period.

The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, to which Zimbabwe is a party, call for full participation of citizens in the political process, freedom of association, political tolerance, equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media, independence of the judiciary, independence of the media, impartiality of the electoral institutions, and voter education.

However, careful monitoring of the election and the campaign throughout the country is especially important considering the need for legal and electoral reforms, HRW said.

Sadc, the African Union, the European Union, and other groups should provide international observers to monitor the campaign period and elections.

The government should ensure that all electoral observers can move freely throughout the country and can access all legislation, regulations and institutions governing the electoral process, consistent with the Sadc principles and guidelines.

Most international and local observers characterised the 2018 presidential, parliamentary and local elections as largely free of violence, but not meeting standards for credible elections.

Sadc, AU and Comesa, however, declared the elections free and fair.

Political parties and civil society organisations complained of widespread voter disenfranchisement, including of foreign-born and diaspora voters, and the inability to compete on a level playing field.

State media coverage was heavily biased in favour of Zanu PF and provided almost no access to or positive coverage of the opposition.

There were reports of voter intimidation, including the collection of voter registration slips by party and tribal leaders to undermine the secrecy of the vote.

While the law obliges traditional chiefs to be impartial, in rural areas traditional leaders mobilised voters and canvassed support for Zanu PF.

ERC has predicted that the 2023 elections will be disputed due to lack of electoral reforms, predicting that the country would remain polarised for the foreseeable future.

Zimbabwe is due for elections in 2023, and opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has maintained that Mnangagwa stole the 2018 election.

While the Constitutional Court dismissed Chamisa’s 2018 election results challenge, former Information minister Jonathan Moyo claimed in his book Excelgate: How Zimbabwe’s 2018 Presidential Election Was Stolen, that empirical evidence shows that Chamisa won 66% of the vote, compared to Mnangagwa’s 33%.