Give Zec power to postpone elections: CSOs

BY BLESSED MHLANGA

CIVIL society organisations (CSOs) in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) have come up with a draft Electoral Amendment Bill, which will give the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) a wide range of powers including postponing elections.

The draft Bill, which was commissioned and handed over to House of Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda by Zesn, proposes a raft of changes to the current electoral laws to ensure smooth running of polls and an end to contested elections.

“Electoral outcomes have, in the past, been highly contested in Zimbabwe due to the gaps in the existing legal framework that does not embrace principles for the conducting of democratic elections,” said Zesn, which believes the Bill will cure the ills.

The Bill seeks to give Zec powers to postpone elections even after the President has proclaimed the polls if, in their view, conditions do not allow for the conducting of free and fair elections.

“Clause 27 will introduce a new section 39B, which empowers the Commission to postpone an election at any polling station if it reasonably determined that it is not possible to conduct a free and fair election at the polling station. Any postponement should be to a time within the period prescribed for holding elections by section 38 (1) of the Constitution,” part of the Bill reads.

Currently, once the President has proclaimed an election date by Executive Order unless by an act of God or in the event of an earthquake, the polls will go ahead regardless of the prevailing conditions.

The Bill seeks to also remove the role placed on the Justice minister over Zec, which observers felt gave the Executive control over the independent commission.

Zec cannot hire and fire the chief elections officer without the approval of the minister and the electoral management body cannot make its own regulations on running the elections, leaving such powers to the minister who is also a player.

“Section 9 of the Electoral Act states that the commission can dismiss it’s chief elections officer for breach of any of his or her conditions of service and obliges the commission to obtain the minister’s approval for any such dismissal. The amendment made of this section will remove the need for ministerial approval to underscore the independence of the commission.

“Section 18 … the section gives power to the minister to make regulations regarding automatic and electronic voter registration … the amendment will transfer power to the commission to make regulations regarding automatic and electronic voter registration as provided for in the amendment to section 192 of the Act under clause 86,” reads notes to the Bill.

The draft Bill was commissioned by Mudenda, who asked Zesn to lead CSOs in coming up with an alternative law which could lead to meaningful electoral reforms ahead of the 2023 general elections.

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