THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has a crucial role to play in ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections in the country. As Zimbabwe prepares for the 2023 elections, the Zec has already begun laying the groundwork for a credible electoral process.
One key component of this process is the deployment of election observer missions, who play an important role in monitoring and reporting on the electoral process.
In this article, I will explore the powers and responsibilities of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission beyond administering elections, focusing on the role of observer missions in the electoral process, and how the Zec can work with these missions to ensure a credible and transparent electoral process.
As a commission established under Chapter 12 of the Constitution, Zec has administrative powers and responsibilities, including collaborating with other Chapter 12 institutions, such as the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and Zimbabwe Gender Commission.
Besides its specific administrative mandate, Zec also has a broad mandate to ensure injustices associated with its specific mandates are remedied.
In addition to administering elections, Zec has several other powers and responsibilities. These include voter education.
Under this part, Zec is responsible for educating the public about the electoral process, including voter registration, voter identification, and voting procedures.
In relation to political party registration, Zec registers political parties and monitors compliance with electoral laws and regulations.
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On boundaries delimitation, Zec is responsible for delimiting electoral boundaries for constituencies and wards.
This aspect is currently being litigated against in the apex court on constitutional rights, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe. On voter registration, Zec is responsible for compiling and maintaining a voters' roll and ensuring that eligible voters are registered to vote.
We are yet to write more about its role on election results management and announcement of election results.
While these responsibilities are crucial to the electoral process, Zec also has an important role to play in working with election observer missions. Election observer missions are deployed by various organisations and governments to monitor and report on the electoral process in Zimbabwe.
These missions play an important role in ensuring that elections are free, fair, and transparent.
Some of the key responsibilities of election observer missions, include monitoring the electoral process from the beginning to the end, including voter registration, campaigning, voting, vote counting, and the announcement of results.
This is in addition to reporting on any irregularities or violations of electoral laws and regulations that they observe during the electoral process; promoting transparency by providing public reports on their observations and recommendations for improving the electoral process, and promoting trust and confidence in the electoral process by providing impartial and unbiased reports on the conduct of elections.
To ensure a credible and transparent electoral process, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must work closely with election observer missions.
There are key steps that the Zec can take to ensure effective collaboration with observer missions, which can embolden electoral democracy, good governance, and institutional legitimacy.
The first issue relates to clear communication. The Zec should provide clear and concise information to observer missions about their mandate, scope of work, and areas of observation.
This can be achieved if Zec provides transparent instructions to observer missions about their conduct during the electoral process, including adherence to the Elections Code of Conduct and the need for impartiality.
Other critical ways to promote clear instructions include pre-election briefings for election observer missions to provide them with an overview of the electoral process and their role in monitoring it.
This can include information on the Zec's mandate, the legal framework for elections in Zimbabwe, and the scope of work for observer missions. Written guidelines can also be provided through a dedicated online platform and should be easily accessible to observer missions who are applying to be part of the elections process.
Of course, regular updates can be provided throughout the electoral process to ensure observers are aware of any changes or developments that may impact their work.
This can include updates on voter registration, candidate nominations, and polling station locations. The Zec can appoint liaison officers to work with election observer missions, providing them with regular updates and answering any questions or concerns that they may have.
These liaison officers can act as a single point of contact for observer missions and can help to facilitate communication between them and the Zec.
The other critical aspect relates to access to elections information.
The Zec should provide observer missions with access to information about the electoral process, including voter registration data, candidate lists, and polling station locations.
Zec should adhere to the regional and other international standards. For example, Zec can refer to regional guidelines, such as the Sadc Guidelines on the Conduct of Democratic Elections and the BRIDGE (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance, and Elections) Guidelines to ensure that it is meeting international standards for electoral transparency and access to information.
These guidelines provide recommendations for ensuring that all stakeholders have access to information about the electoral process.
Related to this are issues relating to Zec’s information sharing policy that should outline the types of information that will be made available to election observer missions, how this information will be shared, and the timeline for sharing this information.
This policy can be made available to observer missions prior to the elections through an online portal as adverted to earlier on. There should be provision of access to Zec officials who can answer any questions or concerns that observers may have about the electoral process.
This can include officials responsible for voter registration, candidate nominations, and polling station management.
Above all, access to information entails that observer missions are allowed to observe key stages of the electoral process such as voter registration, candidate nominations, and the counting and tabulation of votes.
This can help to ensure that observer missions have a first-hand understanding of the electoral process and can identify any issues or concerns.
This will also ensure that their reports are critical in building Zimbabwe’s electoral democracy.
The reports doubtlessly shape the tone or discourse on election reforms, funding and partnership in the pre-election, election, and post-election periods.
Another critical aspect relates to cooperation with investigations by observer missions in any investigations related to the conduct of elections.
Linked to this is Zec’s anticipated mandate to respond promptly to any complaints raised by observer missions regarding the conduct of the electoral process.
Provide clear guidelines: The Zec should provide clear guidelines to election observer missions about how they can cooperate with investigations related to the conduct of elections.
These guidelines should outline the processes and procedures for carrying out investigations, the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, and the types of evidence that will be required.
In terms of the law, Zec has four clear mandates, which are the constitutional mandates drawn from Chapter 12 of the Constitution, the legal mandate drawn from the electoral Act, the administrative mandate drawn from various laws and policies, and the anticipated mandate drawn
The latter mandate is implemented taking cognisance of the à la carte application of international law spelt out in the Constitution.
One way to ensure the anticipated mandates are performed well is the appointment of an independent body to investigate complaints related to the conduct of elections.
This body should be comprised of individuals, who are neutral and have expertise in election monitoring and investigation. The body should be empowered to carry out investigations and make recommendations to the Zec for action.
Alternatively, Zec should provide observer missions with access to evidence related to the conduct of elections. This can include video footage, polling station records, and witness statements.
The Zec should ensure that this evidence is made available in a timely manner and in accordance with legal requirements.
As an important institution, which has also been subject to election litigation, Zec should also learn from past challenges.
In this way, Zec can learn from past challenges in the Chamisa vs Mnangagwa and others case in 2018.
In this case, Zec faced criticism for failing to address complaints related to the conduct of elections, the so-called ‘election residue.’
The Zec can learn from this experience and take steps to ensure that complaints are investigated thoroughly and impartially.
Effectively, Zec should also cooperate with international organisations, such as, the African Union and the United Nations to ensure that investigations are carried out in accordance with international standards.
These organisations can provide technical assistance and guidance to the Zec on best practices for investigating complaints related to the conduct of elections.
In conclusion, Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections are a critical moment for the country's democratic development.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must ensure that the electoral process is free, fair, and transparent, and that all stakeholders have confidence in the outcome of the elections.
Election observer missions have a crucial role to play in monitoring and reporting on the electoral process, and the Zec must work closely with these missions to ensure effective collaboration.
By working together, the Zec and observer missions can help to promote a credible and transparent electoral process that meets international standards and promotes trust and confidence in Zimbabwe's democracy. This will also boost Zimbabwe’s human rights score on the global level.
- Hofisi is a lawyer, conversationalist and transdisciplinary researcher. He has interests in governance and international law. — [email protected]