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The Electoral Environment for the March 2005 Parliamentary Elections in Zimbabwe
Prepared by a Consultant
March 23, 2005

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Executive Summary
This report describes the electoral environment in Zimbabwe ahead of the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for March 2005.

Obviously elections are not just about what takes place on the day, or two days, on which polling takes place. An election is a process that occurs within a political context.

For elections to be free there must be a democratic political environment. All political parties must be allowed to campaign freely, hold rallies and meetings, and have reasonable access to the mass media to inform the electorate about their policies. Those standing for political office must be protected against violence and intimidation. All voters wishing to participate in the electoral process must be entitled to do so freely. They must be able to attend whichever political rallies they wish and freely make their own choices as to how they will vote. They must not be subject to threats and intimidation to force them to vote for a political party they donít support or to prevent them from voting.

For an election to be fair all the administrative processes leading up to the election must conducted in a fair and impartial manner, and not in a manner that gives one political party an unfair advantage over the others. This process includes such things as delimitation of constituencies, registration of voters, compilation of votersí rolls and counting of ballots.

This paper demonstrates how, particularly since 2000, the democratic and electoral environment that has been so undermined that it is now impossible to hold free and fair elections without radical changes being effected. It describes the intolerance of the ruling party to opposition parties and its strongly held belief that it is the only political party that has the right to govern. It examines how the ruling party has been prepared to resort to ruthless measures to cling to power. It gives details of the ruling partyís widespread and continuing campaign of brutal suppression of its political opponents and critics. It examines the cumulative negative effects on voters of political violence over several years. It describes how the ruling party has used violent groups, such as the war veterans and indoctrinated youth militia. It shows how the ruling party has deliberately transformed the police force into a politically partisan force that constantly harasses and intimidates opposition party office bearers and supporters, whilst turning a blind eye to violations of the law by ruling party supporters. It describes how the ruling party has packed the courts with judicial officers likely to rule in its favour and how these judicial officers have mishandled challenges to election results in the 2000 and 2002 elections. It describes how the highly repressive legislation passed over the last few years has closed most of the remaining democratic space, taken away basic democratic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly and freedom of the press. It also describes the measures that the ruling party is now taking to suppress non-governmental organisations dealing with human rights and issues of governance. It shows how those in charge of previous elections have displayed blatant bias in favour of the ruling party and have allegedly fraudulently manipulated the election process to ensure that the ruling party wins. It describes how this has created widespread scepticism among voters about the whole electoral process.

The main thrust of this paper is to establish that for free and fair elections to be held in March 2005 in Zimbabwe it was necessary to have dismantled all the barriers to the holding of free and fair elections. It was not just a matter of revamping the electoral laws.

First and foremost the ruling party had to discard its intolerance of any opposition or dissent and accept the basic democratic tenet that all political parties are entitled to aspire to political leadership of the country and to campaign freely to try to persuade the electorate to vote them into power. It, and all the other political contestants, had to renounce the use of violence and intimidation. Repressive legislation standing in the way of free democratic activity had to be repealed or completely overhauled. Once the right sorts of laws were put in place, the law enforcement agencies had to be required to enforce these laws fairly and impartially. No matter what their political affiliation, violators must be held to account at law and all persons, regardless of their political affiliation, were entitled to expect law enforcement agencies to provide protection against violation of their democratic rights.

The Electoral Commission was appointed only a couple of months ahead of the election. Even if (which he did not) the President had appointed entirely impartial Electoral Commissioners who were determined to do their best to ensure that free and fair elections are held, these Commissioners could not have waved a magic wand and transformed the entire electoral climate in Zimbabwe. The Commissioners have had to work through a Registrar-General of Voters who has displayed conspicuous bias in favour of the ruling party, although they will have the power to give instructions to the Registrar-General in regard to the exercise of his or her functions. They will have not been able to repeal repressive laws that disallow ordinary democratic activity. They have not been able to repair the damage caused by violence and intimidation prior to the time they were appointed. There have not had authority to put a stop to ongoing violence and intimidation as they will have no power to order the police to clamp down on political violence. They have not had the power to ensure that the police stop acting in a politically partisan fashion. They have not had the power to order Chiefs to desist from using their powers to intimidate voters into voting for the ruling party. They have not had the power to order those involved in the distribution of food aid not to use food aid to pressurise people into voting for the ruling party.

In order to have free and fair elections in Zimbabwe more was needed than just reform of electoral laws. What was needed is the complete restoration of democratic rights and the rule of law. This required the repealing or complete overhaul of all repressive laws and the reining in of all anti-democratic forces.

Zimbabwe will instead proceed with an election with many very hostile conditions still prevailing. This will make the holding of a free and fair election impossible. Additionally there are credible allegations that the voters roll is in shambles and that military and intelligence personnel are occupying key positions in the whole electoral process leading to a fear that upcoming election will be rigged.

SADC should first have sent a team to assess whether conditions presently exist in Zimbabwe that will allow free and fair elections to take place. In making its assessment this team should have not only considered the changes to the electoral laws but also all the other conditions prevailing. The team should have been mandated to work with the Government and the opposition parties to bring about satisfactory conditions that would have allowed for the holding of free and fair elections. Unfortunately this did not happen as the Zimbabwean government did not allow in the planned SADC technical team.

SADC must deploy a sufficient number of credible observers well in advance of polling to monitor the elections. These observers must judge the elections not just on the basis of the laws governing the electoral process but also on the basis of the general environment that existed leading up to the election.

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • The Presidency and Parliament in Zimbabwe
  • Political Ideology of ZANU (PF)
  • Political Violence
  • Youth Brigade
  • Enforcement and Administration of the Law
    • The Police force
    • Department of National Security
    • The Army
    • Chiefs
    • Provincial Governors and Provincial and District Administrators
    • The Judiciary
  • Election Challenges
  • Current Electoral Environment
    • Repressive Laws
    • Use of Food Aid as a Political Weapon
    • Suppression of Civil Society
    • Suppression of the News Media
    • Bias of media and lack of access to it by opposition
    • Overall Effects of these Factors
  • New Electoral Laws
    • Lack of Consultation over New Laws
    • Management bodies
    • Electoral Commission
    • Staff of Commission
    • Registration of voters
    • Access to voters roll
    • Cost of standing for Parliament
    • Election monitoring and observation
    • Curtailment of postal voting
    • Electoral Court
    • Delimitation of constituencies
    • General observations on changes to electoral laws
    • Pre-election Measures
  • Conclusion

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