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Electoral reforms a pipe dream: Analysts

Local News

WITH general elections now about six months away, Zimbabwe is unlikely to undertake any meaningful reforms that could ensure free, fair and uncontested polls.

Critics say the provisions of Electoral Amendment Bill to be debated in 2023 in Parliament are superficial, meant to give an impression that the Zanu PF led government is doing something about reforms before the elections.

Electoral Amendment Bill

In its analysis of the Electoral Amendment Bill, legal think-tank Veritas says in its current form, the Bill includes that it will now stop the use of drivers licences as proof of identity by persons who register as voters and who obtain ballot papers at polling stations (clause 2(b)).

“It will provide for the election of 10 youth members of the National Assembly.  It will also provide for the continued election of 60 women to the National Assembly under a party list system (clause 4).  It will prevent persons from being nominated for election if they have been convicted of certain offences (clauses 7, 9), and it will set a time limit for the withdrawal of constituency candidates (clauses 8 and 10),” Veritas said.

The legal think-tank said the Bill would also provide for the election of women on a party list basis to provincial councils and local authorities.

“The Bill is not a good one... It fails in its purpose of aligning the Electoral Act with the amended Constitution, even assuming that the constitutional amendments are valid, some of its provisions actually violate the Constitution.  Perhaps more consultation with political parties and civil society when the government was drawing up the Bill would have helped remove some of its defects,” Veritas said.

Zec capacity to hold elections

During a recent debate on the Finance Bill to do with the 2023 national budget in the National Assembly, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) was understaffed, which might compromise the 2023 polls as the electoral body would not be able to cover 32% of the delimitation, voter registration, and inspection and election activities.

 “Zec is operating at slightly above 50% staff capacity, a situation that compromises the conduct of elections. The transfer of the voter registration function from the Registrar General’s office without commensurate resourcing increases pressure on an institution that is operating at a bare minimum.

 “Failure to adequately fund the budgetary needs of the commission with regards to staffing needs may see more qualified personnel leaving at a critical time when a general election is impending. The underfunding of the commission in terms of staff conditions of service and operational equipment such as vehicles also further demoralises staff and continues to threaten the conduct of elections,” the committee report said.

“The budgetary allocation will only cover 68% of the delimitation, voter registration, inspection, and election activities. If there is no additional funding, it means 32% of this work will not be accomplished.”

In the 2023 national budget, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube set aside $101,6 billion for the elections.  Zec had asked for $151 billion leaving a variance of 67%.

Despite complaints by legislators to adequately fund Zec, Ncube did not increase the figure.

The committee feels that since 2023 is election year, Zec anticipates significant litigation costs, and with a 67% deficit, it may not be able to meet such costs.

 “Zec needs to be funded to acquire its office accommodation. Continued renting of private properties and government buildings puts into question the independence of the institution in the perception of the voters. Yet the budget for purchasing offices has a 42% deficit.

“Zec must be adequately funded to run a credible election in 2023 and resources must be provided to help the organisation strengthen its security against cyber threats as well as the security and welfare of its staff,” the committee report read.

Analysts on electoral reforms

Elections Resource Centre (ERC) legal and advocacy officer Takunda Tsunga told NewsDay that lack of implementation of electoral reforms raised by electoral stakeholders following the 2018 harmonised elections is concerning.

“Failure to address the cause of the disputes that arose in 2018 will in all eventuality result in a disputed 2023 election. The current electoral environment is already a cause for concern with the conduct of the electoral commission around the voters roll worsening the credibility crisis faced by the commission,” Tsunga said.

Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust  (Zeat) executive director Ignitous Sadziwa said:  “First and foremost, it must be noted that stakeholders’ input was ignored in the amendment process of the law and to add insult to injury, the cosmetic provisions which Parliament adopted are yet to be implemented barely six months to the polls. This spells doom not only to the credibility of the elections but to the whole legislative process. Parliament plays an important role in a representative democracy like Zimbabwe thus its integrity must be illustrated by its actions. What this entails is that we are still holed up in the same old song pointing to yet another disputed plebiscite.”

Electoral violence

Civic society groups say they are concerned about electoral violence that took place during the campaign period leading to by-elections in 2022.  They feel this might be a reflection that the 2023 polls will be violent.

Some of the violent scenes include the March 2022 killing of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Mboneni Ncube while he was attending a rally being addressed by CCC president Nelson Chamisa in Kwekwe.  In Nyatsime in June, CCC activist Moreblessing Ali was also murdered in cold blood by a suspected Zanu PF activist Pius Jamba who has since been arrested.

Bulawayo proportional representation legislator Jasmine Toffa was recently brutally assaulted while she was campaigning for CCC in Insiza district.  She had to be hospitalised.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition president Peter Mutasa said the writing was on the wall that the 2023 elections were going to be one of the bloodiest in Zimbabwean history.

“We see signs that 2023 elections may be violent than any other elections since 1980, or the violence can be equivalent to 2008.

“This is why we are calling on the international community saying that we need preventive diplomacy or diplomatic measures urgently so that we curb a massacre.  We think that it can only be the Southern Africa Development Community, African Union or United Nations that can protect the citizens when the Judiciary is not able to protect them. I hope those institutions are going to take heed of this warning and take it to the international community,” Mutasa said.

He said international law should be used to deal with all cases of political violence.

Political analyst Effie Ncube said: “Violence is generated by political actors who decide that it is the best route to stay in power. So the only way to change that is to change the mindset of those in power. As long as violence is paying them, in terms of remaining in power, they will continue relying on political violence.”

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