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Institutional and legislative reforms key to free and fair elections
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
October 15, 2010

Pronouncements by Zimbabwe's main political parties, namely ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) point to possible elections in 2011. Almost two (2) years after the formation of the coalition government, no steps have been taken to democratize the administration and management of elections including creating a level playing field for political contestants. Elections in Zimbabwe have been characterized by widespread violence instigated mainly by State agents and other entities such as the war veterans and the youth militia. The state agents such as police, army and the intelligence operatives have conducted their duties in a patently partisan and unprofessional manner.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition reiterates its long held position that electoral reforms alone will not bring about democratic, free and fair elections. We urge the inclusive government to take concrete steps towards fully implementing the GPA. This includes sponsoring institutional and legislative reforms to create a conducive environment for the holding of credible elections. The political environment remains poisonous, restrictive and characterized by ZANU PF impunity. The Coalition notes that;

1. The militarisation of the country's electoral politics should be stopped and all military personnel deployed in the communities re-called to the barracks. Making partisan public statements (pre- emptive coups) against other political players as was the case in 2002 and 2008 is uncalled for and has no place in a functional democracy. The role of the military in the electoral charade of the June 2008 election run -off should not be repeated.

2. The structures of violence mainly made up of para-military groups including the youth militia and war veterans remain in place. These groups, which were seemingly docile over the past two years, were responsible for the instigation of violence during the run-up to the June 2008 Presidential run-off and other preceding elections. Events of the 18th and 19th of September 2010 when alleged ZANU PF youths disrupted constitutional outreach meetings in Harare and Chitungwiza are reflective of the continued existence of institutions of violence which are waiting to strike at their self prescribed time.

3. Repressive laws, which hinder the exercise of civil and political liberties such as freedom of association and expression, both key components in the holding of democratic elections, are still in place despite commitments by ZANU PF and the two MDC formations to repeal the laws. One of these laws, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) makes it mandatory for political parties to seek police clearances before holding rallies and was used in 2008 to frustrate efforts by the MDC to hold public gatherings with their supporters. Of particular concern is the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures Act which gives the President unfettered power to make law in between elections, in which he is a contestant. In 2008, the act was used to reverse an electoral provision which allowed the differently abled to vote with the assistance of their trusted friends and family members, replacing it with a provision which conferred the responsibility to the partisan police and ZEC officials.

4. Key government institutions remain highly politicised and exhibit an inability to operate impartially. Of note is the continued selective application of the law by the police who continue persecuting MDC supporters and members of the pro-democracy forces as exemplified by the continued arrests of MDC officials on trumped up charges and the apprehension of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists in September 2010. Additionally, police inaction in curbing violence instigated by alleged ZANU PF supporters during the constitutional outreach meetings reflects negatively on their role in the promotion of peace in the country. Members of the police force deliberately stood by while ZANU PF supporters were disrupting and ejecting bonafide Zimbabweans from the meetings. Instead of apprehending perpetrators, the police neglected their duties choosing to arrest an MDC official in Greystone Park on allegations of causing disruptions. Contrary to Article 13 of the GPA which states that state institutions should be non-partisan, the public media continues churning out ZANU PF propaganda and denigrating representatives of other political parties. In the past, the public broadcaster has devoted more airtime and space to ZANU PF during election campaigns at the expense of other contesting parties.

5. In August 2010, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission stated that they are unable to run the elections in 2011 owing to resource constraints. These resources are key in that they allow for the conducting of voter education, which is a prerequisite in any democratic election and also allow for the auditing of the voter's roll. In addition, potential voters are still facing obstacles in accessing identity documents which are important in voter registration. Technical problems could adversely affect outcomes of these elections as there will be greater room for vote rigging and manipulation of people's votes.

The Southern Africa Development Committee (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections clearly underscore the following among the key imperatives for the holding of democratic elections; Freedom of Association, full participation of citizens in political processes, equal opportunities for all political parties to access the media, Independence of the judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institution and voter education. Article 17 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007) reiterates the need for a code of conduct to ensure an undisputed transfer or retention of power, impartiality of electoral bodies, strengthening of mechanisms which allow for the redress of electoral disputes (in Zimbabwe this translates to an independent judiciary) and fair access to the media by contesting parties.

In light of the above, The Coalition demands a clear roadmap that will lead to democratic elections. We call upon the parties to the GPA that constitute the inclusive government to do the following :

1. Fully implement the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which, among other things underscores the need for;

a. Ensuring that structures controlled by political parties desist from violence (Article 18)

b. Legislative reforms take place (Article 17) particularly of laws which hinder fundamental freedoms

c. Reformation of state organs and institutions in order for them to operate impartially and non-partisan (Article 13)

2. Providing technical assistance to ZEC and the Registrar General's office with the help of SADC and the AU with the view of enabling the bodies to conduct voter education, auditing the voter's roll and providing identity documents to citizens for voter registration purposes.

SADC and the AU;

1. Supervise Zimbabwe elections to ensure full compliance with SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections as agreed on by the Heads of State and Government in 2004
2. Facilitate technical support to the newly appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission by more experienced regional electoral bodies such as the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa
3. Guarantee the democratic transfer or retention of power to the eventual winner of the proposed elections. In tandem with this, SADC must also use political and diplomatic pressure to ensure that that the inclusive government prioritises security sector-reform in Zimbabwe to ensure that security forces are non-partisan in the execution of their duties;
4. Deploy observers to Zimbabwe to closely assess the electoral environment before, during and after the elections as per Article 20 in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Visit the Crisis in Zimbabwe fact sheet

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