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Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill: Will it improve the electoral
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The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Bill is an important government
initiative to provide an independent and impartial electoral authority
ahead of the general election in March 2005. The previous general
election in June 2000 and the presidential election in March 2002
ended in sharp acrimony with controversy over process and the fairness
of the results. In this heated and politically polarized environment,
an independent and impartial electoral commission could have great
potential for building voter confidence in the conduct of the upcoming
election. However, the Bill as currently drafted is flawed and should
be withdrawn and appropriately revised.
too, the ZEC Bill is of great significance. In August 2004, the
fourteen Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of
State, including President Robert Mugabe, adopted the SADC Principles
and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. The document outlines
the responsibilities of member states holding elections, including
the establishment of an independent, inclusive, and impartial electoral
authority. The SADC Principles also deal with the constitution and
mandate of SADC Electoral Observer Missions (SEOMs) as well as their
codes of conduct and guidelines for the observation of elections.
SADC is eager for the general election in March to improve the political
climate in Zimbabwe, which would likely reinforce the apparent normalization
of SADC's relations with the European Union.
With most SADC
member states holding regular multiparty democratic elections, SADC
has sought to promote common democratic norms and standards. In
particular, SADC has encouraged the establishment of independent
and impartial electoral authorities to conduct democratic elections.
Among member states, there is great variety in the formal institutional
architecture of independent electoral authorities. A brief survey
of the laws providing for electoral commissions in Botswana, Lesotho,
Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa highlights their diversity.
The electoral commissions in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South
Africa are established by the Constitutions and Parliamentary laws
of these countries. In Mozambique, the electoral commission is constituted
solely through an Act of Parliament. SADC states also differ in
how commission members are appointed.
of Namibia and South Africa, and the King of Lesotho, play a role
in the appointment of the commissioners. The President of Mozambique
is only involved in the appointment of the President of the Commission.
In Botswana, the President does not participate in making appointments.
In Lesotho, South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana, political parties
in parliament are involved in the appointment process. Some commissions
explicitly exclude all or high ranking party officials from membership,
as in Mozambique and South Africa.
With this regional
backdrop, this paper examines the ZEC Bill. The Bill is a positive
government initiative to establish an independent and impartial
electoral body ahead of the March election, but falls short of emerging
SADC benchmarks. Specifically, the method of appointment of Commissioners
does not provide for the degree of party inclusion that exists in
Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, or South Africa. The Commission's
independence is undermined by too many opportunities or requirements
for Ministerial intervention. The voter education provisions give
unnecessarily intrusive and restrictive powers to the Commission
and curtail freedom of information, freedom of expression, and the
full political participation of citizens. Moreover, the Bill contributes
to existing confusion among electoral institutions over their respective
Watch urges the government of Zimbabwe to adopt the following measures
to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the Electoral
Commission. Zimbabwe may wish to follow the SADC trend toward making
electoral commissions a constitutionally mandated institution.
should involve groups and individuals outside the presidency and
the ruling party more fully in the process of selecting Electoral
Commission members. In addition, the Commission should be insulated
from interference by government Ministers. It should be responsible
only to Parliament. Making the Electoral Commission the supreme
electoral institution will require eliminating or clarifying the
role of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC). Revisiting the
Electoral Act and the Constitutional provisions for the ESC will
be necessary to eliminate the current confusion over electoral responsibilities
among the various electoral institutions. Human Rights Watch also
urges SADC to engage the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the
ZEC Bill is consistent with SADC requirements.
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