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2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles
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democratic space and Zimbabwe's 2008 elections
Research and Advocacy Unit
February 25, 2008
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The publicly proclaimed objective of the SADC
political mediation in Zimbabwe was to create political conditions
for the holding of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. The negotiations
have led to a series of changes to the constitution, the electoral
laws, the laws regulating freedom of assembly and the operation
of the print and electronic media. The ruling party and the main
opposition party agreed to these changes to the law.
There was considerable
scepticism about this Mbeki led mediation process. After President
Mugabe made a few insignificant amendments to electoral laws ahead
of the 2005 elections, President Mbeki disingenuously proclaimed
that conditions had been put in place to allow free and fair elections
to take place. Many believed that the SADC mediation process would
follow the same route and that Mugabe would only agree to a few
insignificant changes to the electoral and political terrain shortly
before any elections. These changes would be made at the last moment
and would not result in any real opening up of the political space.
Even if more significant changes were agreed to, they would be implemented
so close to the election that they would not make any difference.
They would, however, be exploited to allow Mbeki and SADC to characterise
the elections as free and fair.
This paper explores
the extent, if any, to which the amendments to BSA,
have increased democratic space in Zimbabwe.
to BSA will not open up the airways to a diverse range of broadcasters
and end the current government's effective monopoly of the
media. The reconstituted regulatory board will be still under the
control of the executive. Even if the new board is appointed prior
to the March elections, it will be unlikely to grant any new broadcasting
licences before the election, particularly to applicants that are
perceived as being critical of the government. If such licences
were to be granted, the new stations would have little time ahead
of the election to have any significant impact. There are also still
a whole variety of other stringent requirements for potential licence
holders that will be very hard to satisfy. These include local content
requirements and the requirement that only Zimbabweans can be licence
holders, unless there is ministerial approval for the grant of a
licence to a foreigner - a provision that is likely to lead to the
granting of licences only to foreigners who are sympathetic to government.
to AIPPA also fail to create much additional democratic space.
The regulatory board is still likely to be dominated by ruling party
sympathisers and this will dictate the way in which it functions.
For instance, its new power to accredit foreign journalists for
limited periods is likely to lead to accreditation mostly of foreign
journalists that are sympathetic to the ruling party. Newspapers
will still have to obtain registration, as will journalists who
want to enjoy various 'privileges'. Unaccredited journalists
will be permitted to operate, but subject to many restrictions and
the plethora of repressive criminal laws can continue to be used
as a weapon to silence "unfriendly" journalists. New
powers to discipline journalists for unethical practices may also
be used to silence anti-government journalists.
to POSA in theory open up the democratic space to a limited
extent. The amendments are supposed to lead to a situation where
Zimbabweans of all political persuasions will be able freely to
exercise their democratic rights to hold meetings and to mount demonstrations.
The law enforcement agencies are supposed to do everything possible
to find ways to allow these rights to be exercised. If they receive
credible information on oath that a demonstration will lead to extensive
damage to property or other public disorder, it must hold a meeting
with the organisers to try to find a way of eliminating the danger
of such harm. If such negotiations fail and the authorities prohibit
the demonstration, the organisers can appeal against the banning
of the demonstration to a magistrate. However, the heavily politicised
and partisan police force is still likely to apply these provisions
in a biased fashion so that pro-government gatherings will be freely
allowed and excuses will be found to close down most anti-government
gatherings. This biased attitude was already evidenced in the banning
of a MDC demonstration within weeks of the legislation becoming
These so-called reforms
are thus too little too late. They are very limited in scope and
require the regulatory bodies, and, in the case of POSA, the police,
to perform their duties in a fair, unbiased and professional manner,
which is unlikely to be the case.
Nonetheless the 'reforms'
should be put to the test, even if for no other reason than to expose
their lack of any real substance and limited scope.
negotiations between the MDC and the Government of Zimbabwe have
thus done little to open up democratic space and have been merely
a time buying exercise for Presidents Mugabe and Mbeki. The pre-election
climate shows every indication that the impending elections will
be as unfree and unfair as the predecessors.
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