Justice committee gives minister deadline on electoral law reforms

In a significant development, the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee has given the responsible minister a deadline of March 31, 2018 to implement its recommendations on electoral law reforms.

By John Makamure

This is another good example of a committee of Parliament flexing its muscle and pushing for tangible action on its resolutions.

In my article a few weeks ago, I argued that electoral law reforms were a low-hanging fruit for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration in order to demonstrate to the international community that this was indeed a new dispensation committed to political and economic reforms.

Several key developments have happened since then — chief among them being the presentation to the House of a report on the Electoral Amendment Bill by the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Parliamentary Affairs.

The report was presented in the National Assembly at second reading stage of the Bill.

At this stage, Members of Parliament debate the principles of a draft piece of legislation.

This is where they dissect the Bill to determine if it is a good law or not.

One of the issues that is debated is whether or not the Bill will achieve its intended overall objective.

In this case, the overall objective is a free, fair and credible election.

I must say I was very pleased with the Justice Portfolio Committee report.

What I am most pleased about is that the report fully captured submissions that were made by civil society organisations and individual citizens at public hearings convened by the committee countrywide from November 30 to December 7, 2017.

Zanu PF legislator, Fortune Chasi, the committee chairperson, did not mince his words to say the Electoral Amendment Bill in its current form needed cleaning up in order to create the necessary legal environment for free, fair and credible polls.

The committee made the following comprehensive recommendations in line with submissions made at the hearings:

The Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister needs to table before Parliament a Bill with all-encompassing electoral reforms in order to make the Act compliant with the Constitution.

The Bill must provide for enforceable punitive measures to eliminate political violence before, during and after elections.

There must be a clear provision for voter education as a requirement before polls.

The Bill must have a clause that requires Zec to print voter education and polling materials in braille and all the official languages of Zimbabwe.

The Electoral Court must be manned by permanent judges in order to create conflict management mechanisms at all stages of the electoral cycle.

A clause must be inserted providing for how the disabled can be assisted as well as for the setting up of polling infrastructure, which addresses the challenges of the physically handicapped.

The Bill should provide for the disabled and illiterate to choose who should assist them inside the polling booth when casting their vote.

The Bill should address the right to vote of those in the diaspora, prisoners, those in hospitals, allow for a special vote for those who will be away on duty on the day of the polls such as doctors and nurses.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must be allowed its independence, so that it has power to invite foreign observers and approve local and international observers as well.

There is need for amendment or outright repeal of statutes that have an inimical impact on elections such as Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act.

 John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust

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