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Electoral Laws Amendment Bill, 2007: An analysis by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)
November 28, 2007

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Executive Summary

For an election to be free and fair the entire process must be free and fair and the body running the election must perform its duties efficiently and in a scrupulously impartial manner.

If passed, the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill will significantly improve some of the current election laws. Some proposed amendments, however, do not go far enough, and some important areas are not addressed. Additionally, other laws impeding the holding of free and fair elections will also need to be overhauled.

The effectiveness of any electoral reforms depends on how the electoral laws are applied and enforced in practice. Legislation alone cannot prevent malpractices. The best remedies against them are an impartial, efficient and active Electoral Commission; rigorous observation and monitoring of all stages of the electoral process; and impartial and professional enforcement of the laws by law enforcement agencies.

Experience in past elections suggests that, at best, implementation of reforms will be patchy. For electoral reforms to be effective, a climate must be created before, during and after elections in which voters will believe that they can vote freely to a change government through the ballot box, and that the elections will be conducted fairly. It will take time to restore voter confidence in the electoral process. It is therefore essential that there should be a sufficient period between the coming into operation of reforms and the elections. Only when voters see the new laws being enforced will their confidence be restored. The political parties contesting the elections will also need to test the efficacy of the new laws and satisfy themselves that they are being properly implemented.

These are some of the important points made in this report in relation to the proposed reforms:

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
The method of appointment of Commissioners should be changed to reassure political parties and the electorate that Commissioners will be impartial.

As well as army, police and prison service personnel, intelligence officers should also be excluded from the Commission's staff. The management of elections must not be dominated by persons with military backgrounds.

Commissioners should each be given areas of responsibility.

Electoral Court
This Court should be given jurisdiction to resolve disputes before the election has taken place.

The judges appointed to this Court must not display political bias.

Delimitation of Wards and Constituencies
Before finalising boundaries, it should be compulsory for the Commission to receive and take into account representations about proposed changes.

Accuracy of voters' rolls
There should be an independent audit of the electoral rolls.

The Commission should decide on which observers to accredit and there should be no Ministerial veto power.

The Electoral Commission must accredit sufficient numbers of local and international observers to allow comprehensive observation of elections.

SADC should also request to send a special pre-election mission team to assess the pre-election environment.

Voter education
Instead of placing emphasis on controlling the programmes of voter education conducted by civic organisations, the Electoral Commission should establish joint structures with civil society to plan and implement a shared voter education strategy. Only by full involvement of civic organisations will it be possible to run an effective voter education campaign.

Civic organisations should be entitled to receive foreign funding for voter education programmes.

Ballot papers
The Commission should be required to disclose the total number of ballot papers printed for each election.

Illiterate and physically handicapped voters
Such voters should be allowed to be assisted by friends or relatives rather than electoral officials.

Postal voting
The Electoral Commission should be given the power to establish a system that allows Zimbabweans living outside the country to vote by post if they are unable to return to Zimbabwe to cast their votes.

Media coverage of elections
The maintenance of the de facto broadcasting monopoly of ZBH makes it imperative that this sole public broadcaster behave in a professionally impartial manner when covering elections.

The Commission must draw up as soon as possible the regulations governing reporting by public broadcasters to ensure that it gives fair coverage of the election. It must have effective mechanisms to monitor observance of these regulations and to take effective measures to prevent continuing breaches.

Before the next elections more broadcasters should be allowed to start to operate so that the public can receive a greater diversity of information and viewpoints.

The Commission will also need to establish effective mechanisms to monitor the conduct of the print media and to take steps to prevent continuing breaches of its obligations to report fairly on the election.

The ruling party controls the sole provider of daily national newspapers and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has brought about a complete lack of diversity in the print media. These restrictions should be removed and other newspapers should be allowed to commence operations without delay.

Intimidatory practices
In past elections there have been repeated allegations of political intimidation.

The Bill introduces new provisions specifically criminalising a range of practices, which will constitute the offence of intimidation. An intimidatory practice will also constitute an electoral malpractice.

For these provisions to be effective they will need to be properly enforced by the law enforcement agencies.

Where complaints of political intimidation are made to the Electoral Commission, the Commission should be given powers to direct the Commissioner-General of Police to ensure that an urgent and proper investigation is conducted into the complaints.

Misuse of state funds for electioneering
The Amendment Bill does not address this problem, and this is a serious defect since it allows the ruling party, by default, to exploit an unfair advantage.

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