AS Zimbabwe prepares for its upcoming harmonised elections on August 23 2023, it is crucial to emphasise the significance of a transparent and peaceful post-election period.
Transparent and fair elections are essential for upholding democratic values, promoting stability, and fostering public trust.
Put simply, harmonised elections refer to the practice of conducting multiple elections for various government positions concurrently, typically including presidential, parliamentary, and local council elections.
This approach streamlines the election process by allowing citizens to cast their votes for various levels of government leadership on the same day.
This method aims to improve efficiency and reduce logistical challenges associated with holding separate elections.
Role of votes
For starters, the presidential vote is crucial as it determines the head of state and government as envisaged by the national constitution. The candidate, who receives most votes as contemplated by the electoral system of 50%+1 used by Zimbabwe becomes the president.
Presidential candidates have been presenting their policy platforms and visions for the country's future, giving citizens the opportunity to choose a leader whose priorities align with their own.
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The parliamentary elections determine the composition of the legislative body (both National Assembly and Senate), which enacts laws and regulations. Citizens elect representatives, who will indirectly voice their concerns and make decisions on national issues, reflecting the diversity of interests within each constituency and the Zimbabwean society.
Local council votes allow citizens to choose representatives, who will govern at the community level as their secretaries or clerks. These representatives make decisions on local issues, such as physical and wellness infrastructure, public services, budgeting, sewage and refuse collection, and community development. Council elections ensure that local governance is responsive to the needs and aspirations of residents.
All the political parties that are involved in the coming election play a vital role in collaborating with international and domestic election observers.
They should provide insights into local dynamics, share concerns, and facilitate communication between observers and voters.
Collaboration ensures that the observer missions are well-informed and can assess the electoral process objectively. Political parties also engage with voters through campaign activities, manifestos, and outreach efforts.
We have seen political parties with manifestoes, such as the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) engaging citizens and stakeholders on their manifestoes.
It is hoped that effective communication by different political parties has helped voters make informed decisions and fosters a participatory democracy.
Political parties also work closely with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to ensure a smooth election process. They submitted candidate nominations provided party agents for polling stations, and participated in discussions about electoral rules, including the critical issues of access to the voters’ roll.
Sadly, the courts indicated that the case by CCC in relation to accessing voters’ roll was not urgent. Collaborating with the Zec helps maintain transparency, credibility, and fairness in the elections.
To this end, polling agents, appointed by political parties, also play a critical role in observing the voting and counting processes at polling stations. They help ensure that the process is free from irregularities, fraud, or manipulation.
Critical points to focus on
The first point relates to electoral integrity and credibility. The integrity of the electoral process is paramount. Measures must be in place to guarantee that voter registration, voting, and vote counting are conducted without interference or manipulation.
Independent monitoring, both domestic and international, can play a pivotal role in verifying the fairness and credibility of the elections. Preserving the integrity of elections is paramount for a thriving democracy.
Ensuring voter registration, voting, and vote counting remain unencumbered by manipulation is pivotal. Transparent voter registration, clear voting procedures, and secure technology can minimise irregularities.
During vote counting, the presence of observers and party agents can bolster accuracy. The inclusion of both domestic and international observers guarantees an unbiased evaluation.
We have already witnessed cases of alleged voter intimidation and regrettably, death of some citizens because of political violence.
This takes me to the issue of access to Information.
Open communication channels contribute to a more informed electorate and diminish misinformation.
Transparency hinges on access to timely and accurate information for political parties and citizens alike during the post-election phase. Election authorities, particularly the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), media outlets encompassing print, broadcast, and social media platforms, along with pertinent organisations, play a pivotal role in ensuring citizens are well-informed about voting procedures, polling locations, and candidates.
Open communication channels foster an educated electorate, curbing the spread of misinformation, electoral engineering, and bolstering the integrity of the electoral process.
To this extent, inclusive information flow enjoins that access to information should involve catering to diverse needs, including remote polling stations, postal voting disputes and so forth.
All citizens should have equal opportunity to access relevant information, regardless of their location. We have heard concerns that postal voting has been marred with inconsistencies despite concerned authorities arguing that the process is not subjected to observer and political party monitoring.
Moreover, respecting the constitutional and structural channels within Zimbabwe's framework is imperative. This includes the Office of the President, Parliament, the judiciary, and independent commissions like the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), and the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).
ZHRC and ZMC are important institutions, which have a broad mandate to promote justice as contemplated by the national constitution. By acknowledging and respecting these channels, the information dissemination process becomes comprehensive and adheres to the institutional fabric of the nation, bolstering trust and credibility.
This takes me to the point on security and safety of ordinary citizens to build a peaceful post-election environment. The tragic events following the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe, where six civilians lost their lives, highlight the paramount importance of ensuring security and safety during and after elections.
Addressing this issue is vital not only for justice and closure for affected families but also for fostering an atmosphere of peace, stability, and trust in the electoral process.
Ensuring the well-being of voters, candidates, and electoral officials is crucial to create a conducive environment for a transparent post-election period.
While there is no tangible formula for a peaceful environment, many issues come to play. Authorities should proactively implement preventive measures to avoid violence, intimidation, or coercion.
This involves deploying adequate security personnel, particularly in sensitive and remote areas, and establishing a visible security presence to deter potential civilian-security institution conflicts.
Zec should also work with other organisations to promote genuine public awareness campaigns disseminating information about the consequences of violence and the importance of peaceful elections can raise public awareness.
This fosters a collective commitment to maintaining a calm and secure environment. Political leaders have a crucial responsibility in maintaining peace.
Their public declarations denouncing violence and committing to peaceful processes can influence their supporters' behaviour positively. Security institutions should uphold impartiality and refrain from taking sides during elections.
The police and other security bodies should focus on ensuring public safety rather than favouring any specific group. There is also need for swift response to violence.
Any incidents of violence should be promptly addressed by the authorities as contemplated by the constitution and electoral laws.
This swift response sends a clear message that violence will not be tolerated, while also preventing escalation.
This takes me to the point on the need for all citizens, public or private, to reject violence and upholding human rights. Political parties come and go but the sanctity of human life remains.
Zimbabwe’s post-election human rights score card has always been a cause of concern. Civilian casualties are an unfortunate consequence of political unrest and electoral tensions.
Such loss of life is unacceptable and goes against the principles of human rights and democratic governance. Security institutions have a responsibility to uphold the safety of all citizens, irrespective of their political affiliations.
The tragic deaths of civilians must never be condoned, and it is imperative that security forces prioritise protecting lives, ensuring public safety, and respecting the rights of all individuals.
This takes us to the point on efficient vote-counting and reporting. Swift and accurate vote-counting is fundamental in reducing electoral tensions amongst different political parties and their supporters.
Transparent mechanisms for tallying and reporting results should be established, with timely updates provided to the public.
This prevents speculations and ensures that election outcomes are based on reliable data.
Political parties, state institutions and civil society should also explain the timelines expected of Zec to announce the presidential results to avoid the sad events of August 1, 2018, from being repeated.
This point is linked to access to legal recourse.
An effective legal framework must be in place to address any disputes or grievances that may arise during the electoral process.
This includes avoiding the conflation between the High Court and the Electoral Court. The court prophets should also be prevented from incensing voters with their sensationalised prophets about the outcome of the election.
Swift resolution mechanisms ensure that any challenges are dealt with transparently and fairly, upholding the rule of law.
In addition to the above, the presence of both international and domestic observers should enhance the transparency of the electoral process.
These observers play a crucial role in independently verifying the legitimacy of the elections and promoting international standards.
They also help shape the tenor of political dialogue and inclusivity after the elections. Fostering an environment of political dialogue among stakeholders contributes to national cohesion.
The political actors are urged to help Zimbabwe navigate the post-election phase with openness and trust.
Hofisi is a lawyer, conversationalist and transdisciplinary researcher. He has interests in governance and international law. — [email protected].