The voter mobilisation campaign is fast gaining momentum, setting in motion preparations ahead of 2023 elections. It is roughly 24 months before the elections and it does make sense that people are reminded to register to vote starting now. But are those elections not going to be another futile exercise without electoral reform?
By Tapiwa Gomo
In a normal democracy voting is everyone’s civic duty and every vote counts even in a sea of millions votes.
When margins are tight, sometimes it is the few votes that counts. But that is not the main reason people go to the polling stations.
People vote because they either want to retain or to change their government with the objective of ensuring the leadership responds to their needs mainly improving their living conditions and advancing their interests.
If electoral fairness prevailed in the past elections in 20 years, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe would have experienced political change a long time ago.
Voting presumes that people have power to choose their leaders and that leaders must conform to the demands of the people if they want to stay in power.
Our situation is the opposite of this premise. We hold elections to fulfil a constitutional requirement to give the status quo a democratic face and to legitimise autocracy.
In four decades, the nation has gone to the polls to choose a president nearly a dozen futile times.
And in those many times, the trend has been that any other election than the presidential one has a chance of producing an outcome that reflects people’s wishes — which is why there are members of the opposition in Parliament and Senate.
Presidential elections have largely been a pseudo-democratic exercise as it has become increasingly clear that power is not available for electoral contest.
This was confirmed during the November 2017 coup when the military intervened in what was an internal crisis within the ruling party.
The lack of free and fair election has not only raised concern but it also resulted in voter apathy.
The central question is whether elections in Zimbabwe are the way forward to address the political challenges and the attendant social and economic crises the country faces today.
This question arises from the concern that power is not available for electoral contest.
It is like participating in a competition knowing that even if one wins, the trophy is not going to be handed over to the winner and yet we still take part, anyway.
There is no doubt that the opposition needs to adopt a different approach ahead of the 2023 elections to change the electoral dynamics.
Perhaps, as they start to mobilise people to register, it is also time to raise the dust over electoral reforms.
We need reforms more than we need elections because without reforms, votes alone are insignificant to to bring about political change.
For example, the main opposition party has never suffered a shortage of votes which is why it had the confidence to go to court to challenge almost all presidential elections since 2002.
The numbers issue is out of the question.
It is the electoral processes that require fixing and that will not happen in 2023 unless the pressure to reform begins now.
Without pressure, the ruling party is on record saying it will not reform itself out of power.
It would be foolhardy for the opposition to agree to enter the 2023 elections without reforms and expect a different outcome.
Electoral reforms are supposed to be a condition for agreeing to participate in elections and that discussion needs to start now.
We all know what is required to ensure free and fair elections.
Part of it is that the electoral management, which is fundamental in ensuring election outcomes reflect the wishes of the people, is reformed.
The more successful electoral management is the more successful the election as a whole becomes.
Achieving efficient and effective electoral management requires several conditions to be met.
First, electoral legislation has to detail every single phase, stage, activity, and procedure in order to prevent abuse of power, electoral fraud, or illegalities.
Second, electoral authorities have to be designed according to the country’s Constitution.
Third, such authorities must have institutional powers to perform their duties under the general principles governing electoral processes such as certainty, legality, independence, impartiality, transparency and objectivity.
The international electoral norms and the United Nations Human Rights Council states that: “An independent electoral authority should be established to supervise the electoral process, and to ensure that it is conducted fairly, impartially and in accordance with established laws which are compatible with the covenant.”
Therefore, demanding a free and fair environment is not the same as regime change — a narrative that has shielded the ruling party for two decades.
This is not achievable without giving the current government pressure to institute such reforms.
Perhaps, it is time the opposition parties and civil society organisations mobilised mass protests to demand reforms before campaigns begin.
This must take into account that we are dealing with a cunning ruling party which has already thrown a bone to chew to the opposition in the form of the Patriotic Bill to blind side them from the real challenge of electoral reforms which is where issues to do with power are settled.
There is a better chance of securing regional and global support in calling for reforms now before elections than crying over stolen elections. The game needs to start now.