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Zimbabwe Briefing Issue 53
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
November 23, 2011

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Zim's political environment not yet conducive for elections

A critical ingredient of most modern democracies is that the people's consent to be governed is expressed through voting in a free and fair election on the basis of universal and equal suffrage. Elections are thus the "sine qua non" and barometer among a plethora of other variables of any democracy, offering citizens an opportunity to freely choose leaders of their choice to represent them in a pluralistic system of representative government.

The free choice of leaders depends on first, the atmosphere in which elections are held - with emphasis on freely allowing all participating political parties unfettered access to the electorate to sell their manifestos, and second, the administration of the election which puts confidence in the electorate that their vote will matter.

Under the current Zimbabwe political scenario, these two most important ingredients (political environment and the administration of that election) for a free and fair election which produces uncontested results is lacking from the political recipe outlined in the election road-map that political parties are still squabbling over.

It is against this background that the prevailing political environment in Zimbabwe is not conducive for the holding of free and fair elections.

The institution in charge of administering elections is discredited and lacks the institutional capacity and financial resources to conduct elections; hence the year 2012 cannot be a year for elections but a year for work on democratic electoral reforms.

Holding elections in 2012 before electoral reforms and a change in political culture will be a mere political ritual and facade to mask an unpopular dictatorial and authoritarian regime.

The signing of the Global Political Agreement and the consummation of the unity government was a transitional mechanism to put an end to political violence, work towards peace, restore economic stability, author a new constitution and prepare for the holding of free and fair elections under a level playing field.

The continued squabbling and utter disregard by Zanu PF of this arrangement show that the unity government has outlived its usefulness and is now teetering on the verge of collapse hence the need for an election that will usher a new political dispensation.

The eminent need for an election has broad consensus, the great question of the day remains when and the environment in which the next election will be conducted.

An election for the sake of holding an election will neither improve the quality of life for ordinary citizens nor help Zimbabwe rejoin the family of nations from which it has been booted out because its democracy and governance deficits.

Globally, because of its universality, democracy is now a subject of broad consensus, high on the priority list of the international community.

The following are the major issues concerning the environment and the administration of elections which if unresolved, Zanu PF is guaranteed of another disputed "victory" and the region should either prepare for the facilitation of yet another unity government or prepare to protect citizens from a war spill-over into their countries when Zimbabweans get fed up and confront the regime head on.

The major stumbling block to people's free expression of who they want to represent them in Zimbabwe at the moment is violence, intimidation and general closure of democratic space.

The bloody clashes witnessed in Chitungwiza recently are reminiscent of the 2008 sham elections and cause physical and psychological torment to the victims and witnesses of such inhuman acts of political terrorism.

Equally some perpetrators of such callous acts are not spared from trauma since most of them are doing it either for money or to please the likes of Saviour Kasukuwere who are the Godfathers of violence.

Violent tendencies by a political party are worrying, but the possession of a well oiled infrastructure and associated paraphernalia for violence by a political party which purports to represent people's interests is disgusting.

In one of Zanu PF's post 2008 songs, the kongonya dancing women loudly and unashamedly sung: "zvikaramba toita zva June" (If we fail we will resort to the June 2008 strategy).

If the levels of unrepentence and celebration of impunity in Zanu PF are not curbed, violence will become a fast spreading political tumour impeding national healing with the possibility of the country sliding back into a violent epoch characterised by loss of limbs and lives.

It is now time that the people of Zimbabwe come together within their communities and device peaceful strategies of ensuring that "zvaJune" will never be repeated again.

Until and unless the people of Zimbabwe are guaranteed that "zvaJune" will not happen again, the holding of an election will just serve the purpose of legitimising a discredited regime which is now surviving on violence and thuggery to usurp state power from the leaders Zimbabweans will have chosen.

The use of state security apparatus either to perpetrate violence directly or commanding the violent lumben elements in Zanu PF is well documented in a report by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition entitled: "The military factor in Zimbabwe's political and electoral affairs".

It is a fact that Zanu PF has over the years relied on militarising socioeconomic and politico-electoral affairs of the state to block civilian participation in key national processes.

If the involvement of the military in swaying the vote through the environment and their involvement in the administration of elections is not addressed, there is no point of going into an election whose outcome is predictable.

The police have played a "midfielder" role for Zanu PF in the electoral processes in Zimbabwe through deliberate misinterpretation of POSA to ban meetings of the opposition and, through selective application of the law, allowing perpetrators of violence to commit crimes with impunity.

The police needs to be non-partisan and be at the centre of ensuring that campaigning is conducted in a free and fair manner in the next election.

The use of arbitrary arrests as a restrictive tool to the operations of the opposition is deplorable.

By voting, the electorate hope at least to communicate their preferences for government policy through selection of leaders.

Simultaneously, candidates, political parties, and interest groups hope to attract the electorate to their causes.

Electioneering thus becomes a communication issue. Unfettered access to the electorate need not be only physical.

The media has great influence on how people behave and their behaviour in expressing who they want to represent hem is not an exception.

The monopolisation of state media by Zanu PF, reducing the national newspapers and broadcasters to their mouthpieces has to be addressed before any serious election in Zimbabwe.

All political parties have to be given voice in the media to sale their manifestos and civic society organisations should also be allowed to educate the people on politicoelectoral affairs as an aiding tool to decision making.

As the number of people who are supposed to cast votes in an election increase, the difficulty of conducting that election increases, necessitating the creation of an institution that will be tasked with running the election.

Proper administration of elections creates confidence in the electorate so that their vote will matter and hence they will cast their votes in large numbers addressing the problem of apathy.

An institution tasked with election administration must thrive to be neutral and non-partisan for them to build faith in the electorate across the political divide.

The choice of the people to lead an institution that administers election must be above board to convince the electorate that they are not representing anyone's interests.

The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) must be independently well-resourced to ensure they administer the election independently without begging for support from people that have vested interests in the election outcome.

These are some of the properties of an election administration body which puts confidence in the electorate.

The opposite is mostly true for the administration of elections in Zimbabwe. The allegations of vote rigging may not be just a mere allegation but a fact.

Zec is dominated by, and often receives trainings from members of the army, police, CIO, war veterans and diehard Zanu (PF) officials.

The director for public relations Shupikai Mashereni is a soldier with the army Public Relations Directorate and a known staunch Zanu PF sympathiser.

The former chairman of ZEC, Retired Brigadier General George Mutandwa Chiweshe is a war veteran and serious bootlicker of President Robert Mugabe, for his role in delaying the announcement and tempering with election results in the 2008 watershed election, Judge Chiweshe has been promoted to be Judge President and only God knows what he will do next to get recognition from Mugabe.

Although there has been some changes at the board level, the appointment of the ZEC secretariat should above board be civilian.

The running of an election does not require super-natural military acumen and hence should be left to civilians.

ZEC should be run independently without influence from the executive if it is to impartially administer elections otherwise we will have a situation were the player becomes the referee.

Before the independence of ZEC is addressed there is need to begin discussions on using technology to enhance efficiency, finding ways of ensuring that delimitation is not used to help candidates win an election, opening up voter registration for civil society and observation of the election.

If the administration of election is addressed the people of Zimbabwe will continue not to have faith in the election process and the apathy levels will remain pathetic.

It is for these reasons and against this background of failed elections, that next year election should be halted because of the enormous work that still needs to be done to ensure that both the environment and the administration of the next election will produce uncontestable results which will pave way for the establishment of a government by the people and working for the people.

Democratic forces should begin working together towards cornering the regime to put in place reforms before the next election. Equally, Sadc and the AU in their capacity as the guarantors of the GPA should use their political leverage to force the regime to implement reforms by refusing to recognise the results of a flawed election process.

The region, the continent and the international community have become key political players on the Zimbabwean political landscape. If there are no democratic reforms, the next election will be a mere political ritual and a facade to mask the unpopular self-destructing dictatorial regime of Robert Mugabe.

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