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What needs to be done prior to elections in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Election Support Network
April 16, 2013

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The referendum on a new constitution for Zimbabwe took place on March 16, 2013, and the result was an overwhelming “YES” in favour of the proposed new basic law of the land. This result was not surprising, but the high turnout was. The constitutional draft has now been gazetted and when the formal gazettement period has come to an end, the document will be presented in Parliament, where it will be passed easily. From there, it will eventually get the presidential signature and only then will Zimbabwe formally have a new constitution.

At that point, elections conducted according to the new constitution will be on the agenda. On what date the elections can take place is presently unclear. What is clear, though, is that the Electoral Act must be amended before many election preparations can even begin. The reason is that the constitution – when finally in force – will change the way Parliament, provincial councils and local councils are elected.

Prior to the implementation of the constitution, a number of politically delicate issues must be looked into. Decisions on these issues will be a precondition for organizing the new elections. To name a few of these examples, it is unclear as to what proportional representation (PR) system shall be used. It is also unclear how many candidates that political parties will be required to have on their party lists and whether those candidates will be allowed to stand in one or more races.

Moreover, some PR systems tend to be better for larger parties than for smaller one, while it is the other way round for other PR systems. Other PR electoral systems tend to be more balanced. As opinion polls indicate that the next election might be a tight race, the choice of PR system might decide who will control the next parliament!

This situation can best be characterised as unfinished business by the politicians and it means that political parties in Zimbabwe cannot hold their primaries and decide on their candidates until they know what the rules of the game(s) will be. It will also not be possible to hold Nomination Courts and the Zimbabwean Election Commission (ZEC) cannot seriously start to prepare for the election, including the procurement of ballot papers!

The many radical changes in the entire electoral machinery will also put a lot of pressure on ZEC, as well as civil society, because there is a burning need to provide information about the new electoral systems. One example will be voters asking, “Why will we not be voting for Senate in the way we used to?” or “Why is there no ballot papers to use in the contest for Senate?”

The next section of the article digs a little deeper into why the Electoral Act has to be amended, and then a subsequent section details what should be considered before deciding on a PR system. Other important issues, like multiple candidacies and the election of persons with disabilities, are discussed in the later sections.

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