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Opportunities and gaps in the proposed electoral reforms
Election Resource Centre
May 27, 2011

The Cabinet has reportedly approved the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act which by and large contribute positively towards the effort to sanitize Zimbabwe's electoral system and processes. It is however necessary for the new regulations to be informed by past mistakes and controversies in order to minimize the recurrence of election related disputes.

In the table below, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) highlights the risks and opportunities emanating from the proposed reforms in view of the broader electoral reform spectrum.

Proposed Reforms Analysis
Polling site specific voters roll - voters must register to vote and do the actual voting at one polling site.
  • The proposals are not clear whether the adoption of a polling station based voter's roll would be followed by a fresh registration of voters. It is important at this juncture to intensify lobbying efforts on the need to overhaul the present voters roll which is known through various voter's roll audits to be in shambles. With ZEC having indicated that the process of re-registration of voters would require at least six months, it is prudent to conduct the fresh registration of voters before the next general election.
  • The need for a fresh voter's roll is amplified by the possible chaos that could emanate from the allocation of people on a voters roll to a given polling station without consultation. This might result in many people being assigned to polling stations further away from where they currently reside especially in rural areas where would-be voters do not always register using actual physical addresses.
  • A fresh registration of voters would therefore give voters a choice on which polling site to belong to, as well as to do away with names of deceased people and names incorrectly captured in the voter's roll.
Declaration of Presidential election results - the ZEC is obliged to declare presidential election results not more than five days after the polling day.
  • Welcome development especially after the 2008 debacle on presidential results.
  • The law should spell out clearly what sanctions follow the abrogation of the set time limits. Will failure to adhere to the 5 day limit mean nullification of the ultimate result to be announced?
Declaration of Presidential election results - the ZEC is obliged to declare presidential election results not more than five days after the polling day.
  • Welcome development especially after the 2008 debacle on presidential results.
  • The law should spell out clearly what sanctions follow the abrogation of the set time limits. Will failure to adhere to the 5 day limit mean nullification of the ultimate result to be announced?
Nomination of candidates - it is proposed that party candidates fill in generic forms endorsed by their political parties. The nomination form must also bear the candidate's signature to signify his or her acceptance of the nomination. The new changes further propose that the candidate or his/her agent should also countersign the form to indicate consent. However independent candidates or candidates of political parties not registered under the Political Parties (Finance) Act shall remain obliged to support the nomination of their candidates by five persons whose names appear on the voters roll in the concerned constituency.
  • Curtails incidences of double candidature for political parties as witnessed in the March 2008 election where the major political parties had two or more contestants in a single constituency or ward.
  • However on the registration of political parties the law should explicitly compel all existing political formations to register as such.
Nomination of candidates - it is proposed that party candidates fill in generic forms endorsed by their political parties. The nomination form must also bear the candidate's signature to signify his or her acceptance of the nomination. The new changes further propose that the candidate or his/her agent should also countersign the form to indicate consent. However independent candidates or candidates of political parties not registered under the Political Parties (Finance) Act shall remain obliged to support the nomination of their candidates by five persons whose names appear on the voters roll in the concerned constituency.
  • Curtails incidences of double candidature for political parties as witnessed in the March 2008 election where the major political parties had two or more contestants in a single constituency or ward.
    -However on the registration of political parties the law should explicitly compel all existing political formations to register as such.
Role of police officers - the new changes attempt to clarify that police officers at polling sites should not take part or interfere with the electoral processes and should only maintain law and order. The proposals further emphasize that the Police Commissioner-General should establish a police post at every polling station.
  • Selective application of the law should be addressed. There should be a departure from the previous malpractice by the national police of treating some political players as sacred cows or untouchables, whilst others are criminalized routinely and often times unjustifiably.
Role of police officers - the new changes attempt to clarify that police officers at polling sites should not take part or interfere with the electoral processes and should only maintain law and order. The proposals further emphasize that the Police Commissioner-General should establish a police post at every polling station.
  • Selective application of the law should be addressed. There should be a departure from the previous malpractice by the national police of treating some political players as sacred cows or untouchables, whilst others are criminalized routinely and often times unjustifiably.
Assisted voters - an illiterate, physically incapacitated or visually impaired voter must be assisted by a person of his or her choice of or above the age of 18 years and can exercise his or her right to vote without the assistance of the presiding officer or polling officer. It further proposes that an incapacitated voter who is unable to vote but is literate should be permitted to vote with the assistance of a person of his or her choice of and above the age of 18 and without the presence of the presiding officer or polling officers.
  • It is positive development in trying to empower all voters as equals and upholding one's freedom of choice as well as secrecy of the ballot.
  • Epitomies of intimidation and violence like the police are commendably set to be relegated from assisting the voters.
  • Whilst this proposed change greatly facilitates the minimization of voter intimidation within a polling station, it fails to deal with endogenous organized violence. This might result in a high number of assisted voters being "forcibly assisted" in voting by architects of violence in the localities, purporting to be their chosen assistants.
Transparency on ballot papers-ZEC must give all relevant information to political parties and candidates participating in elections, the total number of ballots printed, and the ballots distributed to each polling station.
  • The proposed regulations must compel ZEC to adequately and equitably provide relevant information to all political contestants without favouring any given political formation, for whatever reason.
  • The law should allow political parties to monitor the production of ballot papers, their security and distribution.
  • No political party should have access to privileged information which the other parties cannot access as exhibited in March 2008 elections where one political party began talking of the nation heading towards a presidential election run-off, yet the official results had not been announced.
Voters roll accessibility - There is a proposal that upon request, the electronic copies of the voter's roll are given to parties and candidates contesting in an election free of charge.
  • Whilst it is a positive development, accessibility of the voter's roll should be assured not only to politicians, but also to organized civic organizations with a legitimate reason of wanting to encourage prospective voters to inspect the voters roll or to register.
  • Voters rolls should always be easily accessible to the entire electorate for continuous inspection of their names.
Voters roll accessibility - There is a proposal that upon request, the electronic copies of the voter's roll are given to parties and candidates contesting in an election free of charge.
  • Whilst it is a positive development, accessibility of the voter's roll should be assured not only to politicians, but also to organized civic organizations with a legitimate reason of wanting to encourage prospective voters to inspect the voters roll or to register.
  • Voters rolls should always be easily accessible to the entire electorate for continuous inspection of their names.
Complaints mechanism - it is proposed that a special body should be set up to receive complaints or allegations of politically motivated acts of violence, to monitor and carry out investigations of such reports. The allegations will in turn be referred to police for expeditious investigations and possible prosecution.
  • ZEC has existing conflict management structures like the Multi-party liaison committees aimed at managing election related conflicts, which in previous elections have not been put to effective use.
  • The proposed power conferred on ZEC to receive such complaints is indeed necessary in as far as it helps the management body to make an objective analysis, deter and resolve election related conflict.
  • However intensive institutional reform is necessary to sanitize the police force and engender a culture of professionalism in order for them to be able to objectively handle cases of political violence, especially if it involves high ranking officials linked to certain political parties.
Special Election Complaints court - ZEC should be empowered to summon candidates, election agents or parties accused of engaging in political violence. ZEC will be empowered to warn candidates, election agents or parties implicated in acts of political violence and to set up a special court at the magistrate's level to try such cases. The Attorney General is also enjoined to set up a special unit in his office dedicated to prosecuting cases of political violence committed during elections. Upon conviction by special courts, the court can make a special order banning candidates from further participation in the election process.
  • The question of partisanship of the judiciary system should adequately be addressed before having a realistic hope in the efficacy of the proposed amendments. Precedence has shown that there is continued biased prosecution of political offenders, where most cases involving ZANU PF are either swept under the carpet or the prosecution is done lethargically.
  • This noble complaints mechanism thrives better in an environment devoid of political manipulation of the Attorney General's office. Having an AG who openly declares allegiance to a political party dampens the confidence the electorate might need to have in the judicial processes.
Postal Voting - postal voting will be limited to officers outside the country on state duty, whilst polling officers, security officers and any persons involved in running of the election will be permitted to vote within a week before polling.
  • The electoral environment in Zimbabwe has for long been dogged by controversies surrounding the mystery and lack of transparency with regards to the postal voting system. Whilst persistent calls have been made by civic society for Zimbabweans living abroad to be able to vote as well, using this system, it is welcome for the law to clearly state the measures that should be done to ensure transparency.
  • It has to be clear on whether political parties, local and international observers are eligible to monitor the early voting processes to ensure accountability and avoid potential disputes.
Police clearance on candidates - it is proposed that the provision doing away with clearance certificates, whether from the ZRP or from local authorities, be entrenched in the Electoral Act.
  • This would come as a relief especially to those aspiring candidates who would have been victims of arbitrary arrest and conviction on political grounds.
Second round of elections - the existing provisions requiring the winner to win at least 50% plus one vote, has been retained.
  • It remains important to have a popularly elected President; therefore this provision ensures that the country is ruled by a popular head of state and government.
Audit of Presidential election results-it is proposed that results of the Presidential elections must be audited by a reputable and independent auditing firm to authenticate and legitimize the winner.
  • This is an important process that would consolidate the legitimization of the President, so elected. However, this should be audited by a reputable and independent auditing firm to authenticate and legitimize the winner.

Conclusion

The realization and apparent consensus by parties to the coalition government, on the need to reform both the constitutional and electoral frameworks is an important step towards normalizing Zimbabwe's fouled political environment.

While in the past, good laws have been developed and promulgated, the problem with Zimbabwe might not have been entirely about obnoxious and restrictive laws in existence, but has more to do with a bad political culture shown by political players. This culture negates and chooses to ignore even laid down rules and regulations, at times, in pursuit of selfish individual or group desires.

It is such a political behaviour by politicians which has left Zimbabwe with a shameful label of disrespecting the rule of law, abuse of human rights, anarchy culminating in conflict-ridden political engagements at both national and international level.

The nation's hope is that through the proposed reforms to the Electoral Act, necessary reforms will be undertaken to redefine civilized political engagements. The transitional authority offers an opportunity to set new parameters that would guide the nation's political conduct and interaction.

These ongoing legal and institutional reforms are important renovations before Zimbabwe holds another election expected at the conclusion of political reforms. However for all these reforms to be successful, the main political actors in the country must cultivate a culture that gives respect to the rule of law. It would indeed be a betrayal of the people, if political actors make good laws on which they will be the first to disregard.

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