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Why ban civic participation in voter education?
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
January 18, 2011
The word 'reform'
refers to improvement, a positive step in the right direction or
change in the superior way. It is not only about doing things differently
but doing things differently to positively impact on a situation.
However it seems in Zimbabwe's political context, the term
was lost in translation. As part of 'reforms' to the
the Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa proposed the banning
of civic and foreign organisations' participation in voter
education in Zimbabwe pointing out that only those, which are 'Zimbabwean
in character', will be allowed. The 'reform' proposed
by the Minister cannot be referred to as a step in the right direction.
The ban coupled, with threats made by the President
of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe at the ZANU PF congress to 'flush
out' civic society organisations only confirms growing concerns
over the diminishing democratic space for civil society organisations
in the country ahead of a constitutional referendum and possible
elections later this year. the crackdown on CSOs by the state, on
mythical allegations of being 'Western stooges trying to unconstitutionally
overthrow the government' is a calculated ploy to squeeze
civil society out of the democratic space and arm twist citizens
to comply with ZANU PF's three decades of failed policies.
What is more
disturbing is that the so called reforms recommend that the Zimbabwe
Electoral Commission should conduct civic education and in turn
license other organisation or institutions to do the same. It is
no secret that the ZECX Board is itself partisan, representing ZANU
PF and the two MDC formations while the secretariat is allegedly
still infested with state operatives and the military who were key
in the 2008 Presidential election sham. In every election, voter
and civic education are necessary to ensure that all constituencies
understand their rights, their political system, and how and where
to vote and lastly to motivate them to participate in elections.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC)
Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2004)
lists voter education as an imperative principle in the conducting
of democratic elections. For an election to be successful and democratic,
voters must understand their rights and responsibilities, and must
be sufficiently knowledgeable and well informed to cast ballots
that are legally valid and to participate meaningfully in the voting
process. One can imagine the undisputable results of banning civic
involvement in voter education and making it a preserve of ZEC,
which in itself is a politically compromised commission.
Monopolisation of national processes by political
parties has become a cancer in Zimbabwe. One would have thought
that the government would draw lessons from the constitutional reform
process which was turned into a political power contestation between
the MDC and ZANU PF negating the whole notion of awarding citizens
and opportunity to make personal decisions devoid of any political
interpretations. Civic society organisations unilaterally conducted
civic education, which the government and political parties failed
to do. As the country moves towards a constitutional referendum
and possible elections, it is important to provide Zimbabweans with
further education and encouragement to participate in these processes.
Apart from the politically compromised nature of
ZEC, government should ask itself whether the ZEC is financially
capacitated to provide civic education in light of revelations by
the commission last year through the chairperson, Justice Mutambanengwe
that the commission is financially challenged to conduct elections.
ZEC is in a financial quagmire, mainly as a result of an equally
financially compromised country. How then can ZEC conduct the elections
at the same time providing civic education without any financial
Instead of earnestly working towards sanitising
the political environment to make it more 'election friendly',
the government is chasing after the wrong cause of electoral malpractice
and providing the wrong solutions. It is critical that prior to
the holding of elections, the country must undergo rigorous reformation
of the security sector, media and ZEC itself to rid these institutions
of undemocratic forces. Such should be the focus of government as
opposed to impeding on the work of well-meaning institutions.
Civics in Zimbabwe are and constituted by Zimbabweans.
These Zimbabweans have constitutional rights to exercise their fundamental
civil and political liberties. Civic education is one such constitutional
right that civics should defend. The right of civic society to participate
in national process does not come from the generosity of the inclusive
government or Chinamasa. It is God given and should remain thus.
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