Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Problem is Not Electoral Laws in Zimbabwe
Opinion & Analysis
Christopher Farai Charamba
Zimbabwe Herald

Electoral reforms have become a buzz term particularly among opposition parties in Zimbabwe. So much so that some of these parties have desperately rallied to form what they call the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (nera) with the hope of bringing about said reforms.

Not only have these political parties entered a marriage of convenience, but they have also taken the route of demonstrations and protests, albeit unsuccessfully, with the intention of roping in the greater citizenry to join their cause.

The main opposition party, the MDC-T, has even gone as far as boycotting by-elections that have taken place thus far following the vacancy of parliamentary seats, stating repeatedly “without reforms, no elections.”

So what exactly does the opposition mean when they say they want electoral reforms?

Is it electoral reforms that the opposition is looking for or rather implementation of the Electoral Act as is?

When this question was posed to opposition parties at the nera Press conference held on Monday, MDC-T’s Douglas Mwonzora responded by saying, “Simply put, what nera’s case is, is we want those reforms that guarantee the secrecy of the vote, the security of the vote and the security of the voter and this includes amendments to the Constitution, amendments of laws that facilitate free and fair elections.”

One finds it interesting that nera would seek amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act when members of nera were part of the constitution-making process and the amendments to the Electoral Act in 2013.

Finance Minister and Zanu-PF Legal Affairs Secretary Patrick Chinamasa shared this sentiment when he wrote in the Sunday Mail that “MDCs have no basis to demand any electoral reforms . . .

“I want to emphasise that through the collaboration of Zanu-PF and all MDC formations — and before their own splintering and before Zimbabwe People First because that one was also part of us as we were negotiating levelling of the political ground — electoral reforms were done and there is no validity, no basis whatsoever to be demanding electoral reforms.”

In his article he gave clear point by point illustrations of what the ruling party Zanu-PF and the MDC formations agreed upon in terms of electoral reforms and stated that the reason the opposition was now calling on a new set of reforms is because they feared losing to Zanu-PF in 2018.

“The problem is not the Constitution; the problem is not the electoral laws;” said Cde Chinamasa, “the problem is that none of these parties have viable alternative policies to those pronounced by Zanu-PF. The demand for President Mugabe to go is not a policy; and I think they should be told that it is for them to worry about their own leadership and not concern themselves with a leadership that is not leading their parties.”

It is actually interesting to note that Mwonzora’s comment is different to what is found on the nera website. The nera petition to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, signed by the president and convenor Marcelina Chikasha calls for “unveiling of progress in the implementation of electoral reforms.”

They call on Zec to clarify whether voter registration is underway, make available the current voters’ roll, update on the progress made in complying with sadc guidelines and principles guiding the conduct of free, fair and credible elections among other issues.

Nowhere in the nera petition does it mention reforms to the Electoral Act or the Constitution as Mwonzora stated on Monday. One then wonders whether all the parties affiliated to nera are actually clear on what it is they are looking for.

In other quarters was mention of demilitarisation of Zec staff. Minister Chinamasa stated in his article that there “never have been serving members (of the uniformed forces) working for Zec.”

He did qualify this and said that there could be one or two retired members.

That said, this concern from opposition parties is surely more of a staffing issue at Zec rather than reforms to electoral law.

Looking at it, this coalition of opposition parties might actually prove to be more of an unholy alliance as the true intentions and desires of others seem to be different what the group had agreed upon.

Rather than being a cohesive unit, nera looks more like a makeshift organisation that is making things up as they go along. Perhaps this is why they prefer the route of demonstrations rather than taking the legal route to ensure the implementation of the so-called electoral reforms or amendments to the Electoral Act.

Despite the rumblings from opposition political parties affiliated to nera regarding alleged Zec inefficiencies, the electoral body actually convened a meeting on Monday with all political parties to address some of the questions that parties had relating to elections; some legal, others administrative, and even some which were outside the mandate of the body.

nera later that day denounced the meeting alleging that there were CIO operatives masquerading as political parties they had never heard off who voted against their agenda.

Zec chairperson Justice Rita Makarau said that it was not the duty of Zec to vet who was a bona fide or bogus political party.

“There is no way we can know as Zec that this is a bogus political party or not, because there is no registration of political parties in Zimbabwe,” she said

The fact that Zec initiated this meeting and asked political parties to submit questions pertaining to electoral issues, shows the strides that the institution is taking to make the electoral process an inclusive one.

One would argue that this goes against assertions by opposition political parties that Zec is not impartial as this meeting did not discriminate against any political party.

The claims that there were bogus opposition parties simply because they did not support the position of nera are baseless as no set of individuals are restricted from forming a political party for whatever reasons they see fit.

However, perhaps it might be prudent for Zec to keep a register of political parties in Zimbabwe as well as for there to be a set of requirements for one to register a political party.

Zec has stated that the meetings with political parties will continue on a monthly basis.

One is of the opinion that this process is definitely necessary and should facilitate for free and fair elections come 2018.

The concerns of all political parties should be heard by the electoral body so as to show that Zec is impartial and independent as called for in the Constitution.

Under two years out from elections, the electoral body should now set out to clearly implement and carry out their constitutional mandate in accordance with the Electoral Act.

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