ZIMBABWE has failed to implement major electoral reforms that were recommended by the 2018 election observer missions such as the African Union, European Union, as well as the joint International Elections Observer Mission, in a development that puts the August general elections in danger of failing the credibility test.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa will on Sunday announce election dates. Election Resource Centre executive director Barbra Ontibile Bhebe on Wednesday told The NewsHawks that the government’s failure to implement reforms and address issues that caused disputes in the 2018 elections will compromise the credibility of the polls.
“The failure to implement reforms necessary to build the confidence in the upcoming elections following the disputes that arose in 2018 is concerning. The credibility of the 2023 elections is dependent on the Commission (Zec) and Parliament’s ability to address the post-2018 elections concerns ahead of the upcoming election,” she said.
After the 2018 elections, the observer missions recommended a raft of reforms to ensure future elections would be free, fair and credible.
In its final 2018 election observer mission report, the African Union recommended that government maintain an open and free political environment.
However, campaign activities of the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) have repeatedly been banned.
There have also been arrests of opposition party officials like CCC deputy chairperson Job Sikhala and opposition stalwart Jacob Ngarivhume who is now serving a jail sentence for organising peaceful protests.
The AU also recommended that the government consider reviewing the legal framework for elections to ensure that aspects of the Electoral Act inconsistent with the constitution are properly aligned, as well as provide for “out-of-country voting (OCV), particularly in those countries known to host large numbers of expatriate Zimbabweans to broaden political participation and promote the principle of universal suffrage.”
While the government is currently pushing through amendments to the Electoral Act to allow mostly youth quota and women’s quota provisions, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has openly turned down growing calls for the OCV, popularly known as the diaspora vote.
The AU also called for a review of the Political Parties (Finance) Act to ensure transparency and accountability in campaign financing.
“The review process of the legal framework should be done well in advance of the next elections to allow sufficient time to stakeholder to be familiar with the changes,” recommended the AU.
However, nothing has been done by the government on this recommendation. The AU also recommended that the government enforce laws prohibiting the use of state resources for political campaign purposes and ensure a more level playing field to enhance the credibility of future elections but, again, no action has been taken to implement this resolution.
Zec has also failed to implement reforms recommended by the AU, the major one being availing of the voters’ roll to stakeholders in time for them to verify its accuracy and inclusiveness.
The AU also recommended that Zec ensure a more proactive and effective use of Multi-Party Liaison Committee meetings as mechanism not only for interaction and communication with stakeholders but also for resolving emerging electoral disputes that do not necessarily require the intervention of the courts.
The AU said that all MPLC meetings were supposed to be held in a regular and consistent manner, but this has not been happening. In addition, the AU also highlighted that “in light of the blatantly partisan and polarised nature of the media in Zimbabwe, the authorities should consider the full implementation of the Broadcasting Services Act and ensure equal access to the state broadcaster to all contestants during elections to create a level electoral playing field.
To date, CCC officials and other opposition figures have not been given airtime by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation to articulate their messages to the electorate whereas Zanu PF has been given plenty of room to do so daily, with its campaign rallies being broadcast live.
The government has again ignored a recommendation by the AU to review the legal provision that requires Zec to seek approval of the minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs before making regulations governing the electoral process which led to a chaotic process during the delimitation process when Ziyambi tried to scuttle the process.
The government was also urged by the AU to extend state funding to independent candidates, but the recommendation has been ignored.
The AU also recommended that the government ratify and domesticate the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance to ensure that the electoral legal framework in Zimbabwe is in full compliance with African continental standards for democratic elections, but the Harare regime has not done so.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Zimbabwe presented its final report on the 30 July 2018 elections, recommending the upholding of the independence of Zec to ensure an improved level playing field, democratic legal framework and an inclusive electoral process.
“The EU EOM suggests in order to enhance confidence in the process, to strengthen the independence of Zec; to ensure Zec provides more effective and timely information during the process to enhance confidence; and for Zec to develop the results management process to enhance verifiability and traceability,” explained the EU chief observer Elmar Brok.
“To help create a more level playing field and a more conducive environment for the polls, state-owned media must be more impartial in its coverage; legal measures should be introduced to mitigate abuse of incumbency and of state resources; and, campaign finance regulations should be introduced to enhance accountability,” said Brok.
“To improve the legal framework for the elections, legislation should be brought into line with the 2013 constitution; and appropriate time limits for the determination of pre-election disputes need to be established.
“To make the electoral process more inclusive, areas of under-registration of voters need to be addressed; and Multi-Party Liaison Committees need to be used more effectively,” he concluded.
However, irrespective of the current amendments to the Electoral Act being pushed in Parliament, most of the recommendations have not been implemented.
Political analysts who spoke to The NewsHawks this week expressed concern over the government’s failure to implement electoral reforms. Professor Stephen Chan predicted that the August elections are likely to be disputed due to a lack of reform.
“It is very likely that these will be extremely controversial elections, with the government determined to remain in power despite an appalling economic track record and internationally widespread reports of corruption at the highest level.
“The reforms outlined by the last set of observer groups will go unenacted. The government wishes the opposition to have as little space as possible. As in Zambia, the opposition will require a vote lead of 10% or more over the government’s tally. That will make for an outcome beyond dispute and beyond ‘fixing’. The question then will be as to the reaction of the military,” he said.
Rashweat Mukundu weighed in: “I think there is never going to be a conducive environment for elections in Zimbabwe. So the participation of the opposition in elections is not predicated on a scenario in which the electoral field is level, but rather it’s actually the participation that incrementally pushes or advances changes to the electoral policy and practice. The opposition must participate in elections as a way of pushing for changes as a way of keeping its political basis active and as a way of exposing the malpractice that ultimately lead to change.
“Without participation, then we can as well wait for a hundred years for reforms to take effect or to be done. Participation is not endorsement of the electoral process but is a way to push for change as well as to expose the weaknesses and the lack of transparency within the whole electoral process.” Political analyst Vivid Gwede also warned that the impending election could be disputed.
“Many recommendations by observer missions from the last elections have not been instituted. The environment in the country is still repressive to dissenting voices, the state media is still partisan, the voters’ roll remains a closely guarded secret, and debates are still on-going about the diaspora vote. Should this state of play endure without reforms until the day of polling, it is likely that the polls will not meet international standards and will be adjudged so. Hence, the lack of urgency and interest in this area is worrying,” he said.