The Electoral Amendment Bill was gazetted last week. Gazetting of a Bill means it is now in the public domain.
While this is a positive development, this law is not a guarantee for a free and fair election.
Parliament must at the same time deal with other pieces of legislation that have a bearing on the success of the electoral process.
When gazetted, a Bill stands referred to the relevant committee of Parliament which is required by the rules of Parliament to table its report containing its deliberations and recommendations before the House within 14 business days.
The House of Assembly Standing Order 105 (2) empowers the committee to call for and receive evidence from the public on that Bill.
The relevant portfolio in this case is that of Justice, Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs chaired by the MDC-T’s Douglas Mwonzora.
Given the huge importance of the Electoral Amendment Bill, we expect the committee to conduct nationwide public hearings, including in marginalised rural communities.
We always assume the rural folk has nothing to say on such matters when in actual fact it is in these areas that one obtains the most substantive input.
We also have the Parliamentary Legal Committee, which is empowered by the Constitution to examine whether any provision of a Bill (other than a Constitutional Bill) violates the Declaration of Rights or any other provision of the Constitution. It is therefore important for stakeholders to follow closely the work of these two committees.
Internationally, it is agreed elections must be conducted in a manner that is consistent with the principle that the authority to govern derives from the will of the people demonstrated through elections that are efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and properly conducted.
This should be the spirit guiding crafting of any electoral law. The Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections should also be the guiding document when formulating the policy and legal framework for elections.
The Sadc principles require member states to do the following:
Take measures to ensure the scrupulous implementation of democratic election principles
Establish impartial, all-inclusive, competent and accountable national electoral bodies staffed by qualified personnel
Safeguard human and civil liberties of all citizens, including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression, campaigning and access to the media by all stakeholders during electoral processes
Provide adequate resources for carrying out democratic elections
Ensure that adequate security is provided to all parties participating in elections
Ensure the transparency and integrity of the entire electoral process by facilitating the deployment of representatives of political parties and individual candidates at polling and counting stations and by accrediting national and other observers/monitors
The provisions of the Electoral Amendment Bill include announcement of presidential results within five days; adequate time for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to conduct a proper delimitation of constituencies; extension of period between nomination day and polling day from between 28 and 50 days to between 42 and 63 days; reasonable time frame (between 28 and 42 days) by which a presidential run-off should take place; giving Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) overall responsibility to accredit local and foreign observers; strengthening code of conduct for political parties especially in relation to politically-motivated violence and intimidation; appointment of special liaison officers in each province for the expeditious investigation of cases of politically-motivated violence; to assist the special liaison officer set up special investigation committees in each province chaired by a representative of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and strengthening the Electoral Court to ensure quick and fair settlement of election related disputes.
There has however been a lot of controversy regarding the introduction of polling station voters’ rolls.
Presently, voters are registered in their wards and may vote at any polling station within their wards.
The new provision provides for the establishment of permanent polling stations and for the preparation of voters’ rolls based on polling stations rather than constituencies or wards.
Each voter will be registered at a specific polling station and will have to vote at that station.
The provisions of the clause will only come into operation when ZEC has prepared all the necessary polling-station voters rolls.
The issue that arises from this provision is whether the existing voters’ roll will be used as the basis for allocating voters to particular polling stations or whether this new system will require ZEC through the Registrar-General to undertake a fresh voter registration process in which all previous voters and new voters would have to register to vote at specific polling stations after these new polling stations have been established.
If the existing roll is to be used to assign registered voters to polling stations based upon the addresses given when they were registered as voters, this could lead to inaccuracies because in a particular area people may have moved from their original addresses and some voters in the area may have died.
This is why there have been loud calls for a completely new voters’ roll.
One complication is how ZEC will be able to establish and locate voter-specific polling stations until it knows the voter population density in the different areas throughout the country.
While the advantage of polling station specific voter system is that it allows for easier administration of elections, on the other hand, it has been argued that those intent upon using violence and intimidation to influence the vote will find it far easier to pressurise a relatively small voter population who live in the vicinity of the voting station at which they are registered and at which they have to vote.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the amendments to the Electoral Act are generally progressive and will help to create conducive conditions for free and fair elections.
However, it must be borne in mind that good electoral laws will not in themselves produce a free, fair and credible election outcome. The laws must be properly implemented and enforced.
ZEC must ensure that it performs its onerous task of conducting elections professionally, efficiently and fairly.
Free and fair elections require not only fair and efficient conduct of the electoral process, but also a free and fair electoral environment.
John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in personal own capacity. Feedback: email@example.com