CIVIL society organisations say Zimbabwe may be headed towards another disputed election, with most pre-election processes in a shambles, underlined by impunity and legal irregularities that are tilted in favour of the ruling Zanu PF.
The government has been dragging its feet in rolling out reforms, including the alignment of the Electoral Act to the 2013 constitution and the diaspora vote, among others. In May last year, the European Union Election Observer Mission (EUOM) expressed concern at the slow pace of electoral reforms after the contentious 2018 polls, saying progress on the implementation of reforms has been limited, with the majority of the priority ones yet to be addressed.
Civil society leaders say a lot still needs to be done to ensure the integrity of the election. In a Zoom meeting convened by the Southern Africa Political Series (Sapes Trust) and the Research Advocacy Unit (RAU) last Friday, Electoral Resource Centre (ERC) executive director Barbra Bhebhe lamented the partisan accreditation of civil society in the voter registration blitz last month.
“Media were granted access to observe the voter registration process in the just-ended blitz.
That was a positive development, although my concern is that civil society was sidelined in the process of observing the voter registration blitz.
“We also noted something that we think should not happen in the actual election itself where we saw a lot of organisations accredited to observe the blitz being aligned to Zanu PF, for example Heritage and Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz).
That then raises questions whether or not mainstream civil society is going to be accredited,” queried Bhebhe.
As previously reported, senior security sources told The NewsHawks that the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), through Faz led by CIO co-deputy director-general retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi, has secretly taken over from the military, the running of national elections — designed to manipulate the process in favour of the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government.
This is not a constitutional or official arrangement, but an underground operational unit campaigning for Mnangagwa and Zanu PF in the August general elections, which is likely to shred electoral integrity.
Bhebhe said Zec’s failure to release the voters’ roll is another key issue likely to undermine the integrity of electoral process.
“On integrity, I think the voters’ roll remains an important issue. I think it is worthwhile to just point the [Allan] Markham case on the voters’ roll, where the application was dismissed on grounds that releasing an electronic copy of the voters’ roll was a security issue, and that the advent of social media would jeopardize the voters’ roll.
“I think that actually tells us whether or not we are to engage in litigation as civil society and access the voters’ roll before the elections. I think that is a concern because this case actually throws litigation efforts that we could do as civil society to access the voters’ roll like we did in 2018.
“We resolved to litigation (in 2018) and were able to get the voters’ roll. We do not know if litigation is going to work after this case. The voters’ roll must be availed to all stakeholders,” she said. Bhebhe said impunity has remained evident, with the government continuing to jail political opponents for long periods of time, usually without trial.
“We have seen excessively long periods of detention where defendants have been in detention for years. It would be good to highlight some of the cases e.g Mutare mayor Simon Chabuka’s case, and also the Walter Mutwawo case, in which he has been in remand since July 2018. Lately, we have the case of Honourable Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole,” Bhebhe said.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Musa Kika said Zimbabwe’s proclamation of electoral dates should be aligned with the constitution as is being done by other countries. “I see it as an issue of concern when the entire nation has to be kept guessing when we are going to have an election. In other countries people know when elections will happen,” Kika said.
“I give Kenya as an example. They came out of an election and we know the next election is going to be held on the August 9, 2027. Why? Because their constitution clearly states election dates.
“By now, we ought to know when polling would take place. I would imagine a situation where a nation is kept guessing would arise out of a situation when someone wants something to do with an election . . . to derive some benefit. But even assuming nothing wants to be done, just the optics and perception of manipulation based on timing is enough to taint the credibility of an election.”
Kika said there is a need to protect some sections of the constitution from amendment by Parliament. He cited Constitutional Amendment No. 2 which Mnangagwa used to extend Chief Justice Malaba’s tenure by five years, despite his reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. Such moves are likely to influence electoral outcomeas.
“I will point out what I think should be the second constitutional mistake. In my view, when we made our constitution, we ought to have insulated from parliamentary amendment certain changes to the constitution that alter or affect basic structure of the constitution, and structure of the government,” he said.
“And we have a prevailing perception that the Chief Justice (Luke Malaba) was preserved through Amendment No. 2 to deliver judgments that would be expected of him by the President. “We ought to have made it a requirement for a referendum when we alter things like the appointment, or extension of tenure of the head of an arm of government.
“Amendment No. 2 has to do with head of the legislature. What we have now is a situation whereby judicial office bearers cannot have their [job] security guaranteed and therefore become beholden to the President.”