Last year, published photographs of the former Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson, Rita Makarau kneeling before former President Robert Mugabe at the launch of the biometric voter registration exercise raised a storm.
By MIRIAM TOSE MAJOME
Questions were raised as to the propriety of such an action, where she voluntarily demeaned herself before the former President, who appointed her into the position.
The image of an African woman in one of the most powerful positions in the country at the apex of the country’s elections board humbly kneeling in submission before an African man was so powerful that it sharply divided opinion.
Some people justified it by raising the culture flag, admiring how such a powerful woman could still manage to submit herself before a man, but others were not so impressed.
They argued that she was supposed to show her own strength and detachment and not be seen to be deferring to one of the interested and competing political party players to the extent prostrating herself before him.
Whatever the explanation or the stance, the image of a Supreme Court judge kneeling in complete submission was thought provoking and unforgettable.
Another controversy stirred when her successor, Priscilla Chigumba appeared in another set of published images alongside members of the executive on a working visit to observe Russia’s elections in February.
There was outrage at the possibility of them having travelled together and suppositions as to the import of their interactions in all the time spent away together.
Pictures do tell a thousand words.
The Electoral Act
The Electoral Act provides for the creation of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the terms of appointment of commissioners.
The Act makes provisions for voter registration and lodging of objections by voters, political parties and candidates.
It provides for the preparation of the voters’ roll and sets the qualifications for voters and voter registration.
It prescribes the procedure for the nomination and election of candidates and for the filling of parliamentary seats.
It sets election rules and supervises presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.
It defines electoral offences and sets the prescribed penalties and instals systems for the prevention of electoral malpractice.
It establishes the electoral court for the hearing and determination of election petitions and related matters.
Appointment of commissioners
The Zec chairperson and eight other commissioners are appointed by the President in consultation with the Judicial Services Commission.
They are supposedly chosen for their proven track record and experience and competencies in the public and private sectors.
They must be highly skilled individuals with high levels of integrity that are commensurate with the task of supervising and administering the country’s elections.
Appointments are for six years and can be renewed for a further six, but they cannot serve for more than 12 years as Zec commissioners.
Zec is responsible for preparing, supervising and conducting local government, parliamentary and presidential elections and would also have been responsible for provincial and metropolitan council elections if they had been established as prescribed by sections 267-273.
However, the government defied the Constitution and failed to establish the councils.
Zec also conducts the elections for members of the National Council of Chiefs.
It supervises intra-parliamentary elections of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of Parliament.
Its responsibilities were fully discussed last week.
Questions are often raised pertaining the independence of Zec.
The general suspicion is that Zec, being a State organ filled with political appointees, is conflicted and biased towards the ruling party and appointing authority.
This suspicion is by no means a secret that Chigumba saw it necessary to address it and try and allay fears at the recently held 2018 election symposium at the University of Zimbabwe on Thursday.
Its independence and impartiality are provided for in terms of the Constitution and section 10A of the Act.
The commissioners are independent and theoretically not beholden to any institution or individual, and so are not supposed to fear or favour anybody or institution.
The State and its various bodies, agencies and institutions and their employees are prohibited from interfering with or hindering or obstructing the commission or any of its employees in the performance of its functions.
It is understandably difficult to fathom that such an entity can be completely independent and impartial when all the commissioners are political appointees, who owe their jobs and livelihoods to the appointing authority.
All the commissioners are appointed by the President, so it is difficult to be convinced by the idea of complete impartiality.
The State organs and agencies are tasked with rendering whatever help they can give the commission in order to ascertain its complete independence and impartiality.
The notion of impartiality is further hindered by the fact that it is State funded.
Some of its revenue comes from fees it charges for its services such as nomination fees paid by candidates and political parties, but most of the funds come from the State provided for by an Act of Parliament so the commission really owes its existence to the State.
It receives other grants and donations from third parties including foreign donors, but these are well vetted and approved by the Justice and Finance ministers.
When all is said and done, Zec is subordinate to the President.
It has to prepare and present a report to the State President, President of the Senate and Speaker of National Assembly after all elections or referenda are just held.
By this, the commission is liable to some direction by interested parties whether directly or indirectly.
Next week, we go international and look at how other countries run their elections and interact with their election bodies