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ZESN preliminary statement on Zimbabwe's Electoral Amendment
Election Support Network
July 20, 2011
Election Support Network has noted the recently gazetted amendments
to the Electoral laws. These reforms come against a backdrop of
previously contested electoral processes in Zimbabwe with particular
reference to the 2008 run-off election whose contestation led to
the formation of the current political set up.
ZESN has critically assessed the draft Electoral
Amendment Bill which was gazetted on Monday 27th June, 2011,
commented, and suggests further improvements, summarised in this
The Electoral Amendment Bill addresses a number of issues which
ZESN believes are essential for the creation of a conducive environment
and the levelling of the playing field for credible free and fair
elections. At the same time ZESN notes that even though some of
the reforms will significantly improve the current electoral legal
framework, the proposed amendments do not go far enough in addressing
the creation of a peaceful electoral environment.
The following are some of the important comments in relation to
the proposed reforms:
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
The Bill re-enacts provisions of the ZEC
Act and provides for ancillary powers. The major test however
remains on the independence of the Commission so that it can execute
its mandate with efficiency. ZESN re-emphasises that the test is
always in the implementation of the rules and structures. Of major
concern are the professional personnel, financial and resource limitations
of the Commission.
Voters' Roll and Polling station-based voters'
ZESN welcomes the provision for the availability of the Voters'
Roll in both printed and electronic versions in searchable, analysable
and tamper-proof format. ZESN is however concerned with the continuation
of the shared responsibility for the registration of voters, creation
and maintenance of the voters' roll between the Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission and the Registrar-General's office. ZESN believes
that this arrangement decreases accountability and can potentially
cause inefficiency. ZESN proposes that these responsibilities must
be fully given to the ZEC which has the sole mandate to run elections
in the country.
The Electoral Amendment Bill further makes provision for the creation
of permanent polling stations and polling station-based voters'
rolls. On the face of it, this reform is in line with international
best practice as it reduces risks of double-voting and promotes
transparency and credibility of the electoral system. However, the
environment within which elections have been held can scuttle the
best laid technical aspirations. Without a permanent solution to
electoral and politically motivated violence, the polling station
based roll will leave communities more vulnerable to retribution
and post-election violence since it will be easier upon counting
to identify voting patterns down to specific polling-stations.
The Bill further mentions that apart from the Commission, political
parties or persons authorised to assist the Commission, any other
person satisfying the criteria set out in the Bill will be entitled
to provide voter education in Zimbabwe. This is a welcome development
as it extends the scope of providers of voter education making the
Commission not the only primary provider legally but effectively
the gatekeeper and monitor of voter education through its powers
to vet and approve materials and content used by voter education
providers. However, it is worrying to note that the Bill further
requires any foreign funding for the provision of voter education
to be channelled through the Commission.
It is ZESN's expectation that the Commission would use its
powers and any discretion in this regard, in a manner that is fair
and reasonable otherwise it would be subject to judicial review.
Election Observation and Accreditation
ZESN notes with interest a new provision in the Bill regarding both
internal and external observers. The Bill proposes the establishment
of an Observers' Accreditation Committee set up by the Commission.
The Observers' Accreditation Committee which will be responsible
for vetting the applications and making recommendations to the Commission
appears to have a heavy political influence in that four out of
seven members are ministerial appointees. While this can be viewed
as an improvement from the former veto powers of the Ministers of
Foreign Affairs and Justice and the consequent cherry-picking of
observers, ZESN is still concerned that this new arrangement also
compromises the independence of the Commission especially its ability
to make decisions without the interference of political interests.
Political violence has been a major dent to the electoral system
in Zimbabwe with the violence
that took place in 2008 drawing the ire of many observers. The
Bill places responsibility on political parties and contesting candidates
to ensure that politically motivated violence and intimidation are
prevented. ZESN is of the view that whilst in theory the structure
looks fairly robust enough to deal with a serious problem that has
plagued elections in Zimbabwe over the years, the test will be in
the implementation. In particular, there is need for vigilance to
guard against selective application of the law.
ZESN commends the mandatory requirements for the provision of electoral
returns at all levels to the candidates and their political parties
and that they must be posted outside the election centres, the availability
of all these copies will enhance transparency as candidates and
parties can use the opportunity to perform due diligence and ensure
that the correct information is being transmitted right from the
polling-station to the National Command Centre.
Presidential Elections and Results
The new provisions require that presidential election results be
declared within 5 days of the last polling date. Setting the maximum
threshold is an important step as it prevents the '2008 phenomenon'
when it took more than six (6) weeks to announce the Presidential
Pre-Emption of Results
ZESN notes that the Bill prohibits the announcement of elections
results by any person before they have been officially announced
by the Commission. This is therefore designed to prevent pre-emption
of official election results.
Nomination of Candidates
Regarding the Nomination of Candidates, the Bill provides a tighter
requirement that seeks to ensure that a candidate is actually a
true representative of a political party that he/she purports to
represent in an election. ZESN welcomes this development as it will
prevent situations that have happened in previous elections where
a single political party was represented by more than one candidate
in the same constituency. The new provision ensures that there will
be specific gate-keeping procedures by political parties so that
only persons that they have approved are nominated to represent
them in an election.
Voting by Illiterate or Physically Handicapped
Another welcome development is the recognition and upholding of
the freedom of Illiterate and physically handicapped voters to be
assisted by persons of their choice rather than by electoral officials
or as in the past by police officers. The Bill however makes a provision
for electoral officers to assist where the voter does not have relatives
or other persons of their choice to assist them.
Overall, ZESN commends this provision and hopes that it will not
be abused by political parties or individuals. ZESN encourages observers
and electoral officials must therefore play a more vigilant role
to minimise that risk if this clause passes into law as provided
for in the Bill.
Although this voting avenue has always been available, the new provisions
simplify the procedures and in particular allow the use of electronic
communications in the applications for postal voting. ZESN notes
that postal voting remains restricted to persons who are outside
Zimbabwe on Government business, as well as their spouses if they
are also out of the country. If postal voting is available to those
on government duty, it could also be available to many Zimbabweans
abroad (the Diaspora) as the case with other countries in the region
like Botswana, South Africa, Malawi and Namibia. However there is
need for proper planning and mechanisms to be put in place to ensure
openness and transparency so that this process is not manipulated
at each and every stage.
ZESN also welcomes the new provision for a special voting procedure
for members of the security forces (Police and Defence), electoral
officials and accredited observers who will perform duties during
elections. ZESN however suggests that polling stations for security
forces should be placed in places that can be accessed by observers.
In addition proper administrative measures should be put in place
to ensure transparency and openness in the whole process.
Media Coverage of Elections
The Bill re-enacts parts of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act
(ZEC ACT) which place a mandatory requirements on public broadcasters
to treat all contesting political parties fairly and equitably and
in particular to give all parties contesting an election free access
to their broadcasting services as prescribed. ZESN notes with concern
that this mandatory obligation on the public broadcaster is of particular
significance in a country where there is only one public broadcaster.
The Bill further provides that adherence to the legal requirements
will be monitored by the Commission with the assistance of the Zimbabwe
Media Commission and the Broadcasting Services Authority. It is
with great disappointment that the Bill lacks specific sanctions
for breach of these rules and this must be improved.
ZESN also welcomes other provisions such as voting processes and
procedures, separation of ballot boxes, information on ballot papers,
inside polling station and outside polling station election agents
that seeks to promote accuracy and promote transparency. Furthermore
the Network welcomes the restriction on police officers from interfering
with the electoral process at any polling station. The new provisions
mention that police officers are no longer allowed to enter a polling
station unless they are casting their votes or have been called
upon to provide assistance in the exercise of their sole function
which is to maintain order and prevent contraventions of the law
to ensure a free and fair election.
ZESN commends the effort to improve the electoral processes and
procedures as the country looks to holding fresh elections. However
ZESN notes with serious concern that the Bill fails to satisfactorily
address other fundamental issues mentioned above in particular the
creation of an enabling electoral environment that ensures a peaceful
and credible electoral process.
the ZESN fact
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