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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Inclusive government - Index of articles
  • Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles

  • Discussion feedback – ‘Elections or national healing first?’ – Peace Watch 7/2010
    June 17, 2010

    Facilitator’s summary of 1st e-discussion topic

    “Should there be national elections before a national healing process has taken place?”

    This topic generated a lively debate, with strong views being expressed both for and against elections taking place first. Although opinion was fairly evenly spread between those who believed elections should be held before the national healing and reconciliation process was completed and those who insisted that issues surrounding the violence and human rights abuses of the past must be confronted and dealt with first, there were more respondents wanting early elections, but with certain conditions to be satisfied first.

    Those opposed to the holding of elections soon or at any time during the next few years said that, on the basis of past elections, we could expect a long period of violence leading up to the election and also post-election violence punishing those perceived to have voted “the wrong way”. For the sake of peace the country should not go to the elections without several more years of the inclusive government, and efforts towards national healing and reconciliation should be stepped up during that time. There were a number of letters saying that the national healing programme should not be in the hands of politicians who were themselves responsible for past conflicts and violence, and that churches, NGOs and communities themselves should take the lead. There were a significant number of letters sent in to the discussion forum saying that free and fair elections would not be possible before the repeal of repressive laws and restoration of the rule of law, and that this would take several years. It was felt that the crafting of a new constitution would help but it would take time for it to take effect and be respected.

    Those who advocated the holding of elections first said we cannot postpone elections until healing and reconciliation have taken place, because conflict and violence have gone on for decades and the healing process would take a long time. The work of the Organ on Healing has been slow to take off and the nation might have to wait for decades before holding elections if closure on all the wrongs of the past had to be achieved first. There was a suggestion that the electoral process could in fact be part of a healing process by empowering the aggrieved and anguished victims of previous election violence to influence the course of events through the ballot box. Several respondents did not feel that the ZANU-PF/MDC coalition government established under the Global Political Agreement was capable of dealing with the issue of national healing. It was not in a position to implement justice, ensure reparations or prevent further violence taking place and without these true healing cannot take place. These were advocates for a Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but most said that realistically this would not be possible under the inclusive government. It was therefore imperative to have a properly elected and accountable government that could then mobilize resources to set up proper structures for national healing, hence the need to go ahead with polls first. It was pointed out that a new constitution was not the panacea for all the nation’s ills and was not a guarantee for safe and peaceful electioneering.

    Demands for reforms were raised whether the respondents felt elections should be soon or postponed a few years, and a common opinion was that without reforms elections would never be violence free. The reforms mentioned most frequently were strong laws guaranteeing freedoms of speech, media [in particular the freeing of the airwaves] and assembly, and also thorough reform of how the police and other security forces operate.

    International Peacekeepers: several contributors said that because of the difficulties of reforming the security forces to allow free and fair elections, we need a firm commitment from the international community to guarantee the safety and security of the electorate. One letter said “without a peace-keeping force the rural population would be brutalized, and rape, torture and murder would once again be the order of the day as they had been during past elections, climaxing during the presidential run-off of June 2008.” [Facilitator’s Comment: Unfortunately it is unlikely that the international community will send peace-keepers to ensure the absence of violence during elections, and other strategies will have to be explored. Should we be lobbying for international observers to be invited at a much earlier date than just the pre-election period. Can we get our government to do this? Can our new Zimbabwe Election Commission insist that this happens? Considering the expense, would other governments and international organisations be willing?]

    Facilitators Comment: Concern for Safety of Voters

    What came out very loud and clear in all the responses was concern about the security and safety of voters in the run-up to and aftermath of the next election. During past elections communities have been at the mercy of violent and misguided elements bent on instilling fear in the electorate on behalf of their political party. Violence has often been orchestrated in many areas of the country many months before the date the ballot takes place and, because it creates fear and displacement, is a type of vote-rigging long before a single vote has been cast. Incidences of violence have included the most brutal murders and assaults, severe beating and mutilation, gang-raping of women, burning of huts and possessions, as well as looting and forced displacement. In some areas torture houses were set up.

    In those elections the police force had a reputation for political partisanship and its preparedness to turn a blind eye to violence perpetrated against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change [MDC] and other perceived opponents of ZANU-PF. Indeed, sometimes the police and other security agents and politically organised “youth militia” were themselves implicated in violence.

    New e-discussion forum topic

    “What can communities do to protect themselves against political violence?”

    There have already been reports coming in of politically based violence and it was noted by violence monitors that this increased once political party principals started talking about the possibility of elections in May next year. This is in spite of the fact that Article 18(d) of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) dealing with the Security of Persons and Prevention of Violence states “that all political parties, other organizations and their leaders shall commit themselves to do everything to stop and prevent all forms of political violence, including by non-state actors and shall consistently appeal to their members to desist from violence.”

    With increasing evidence that political violence is happening and likely to escalate, what can communities do to protect themselves. In Ghana in the key elections which saw the ending of successive military regimes, rural communities communicating by mobile phones and a network of radio stations picking up the messages and broadcasting them nationally and internationally did much to prevent violence and vote rigging.

    We are inviting contributors to send in their ideas on what can be done to prevent violence within each community.

    Contributions to the Topic

    To send a contribution to the discussion simply reply to this message with your contribution.

    Please indicate clearly if you do not wish your name to be published with your contribution.

    There are over sixty members of the E-Discussion Forum, letters coming in are forwarded to all the members.

    Note: The Role of the Facilitator

    The Facilitator will post the replies with contributions to the whole discussion group, but reserves the right to omit any that may be offensive to the aims of promoting peace, e.g. that incorporate hate speech. Comments that are too long may have to be shortened. Preference will be given to thoughtful and original contributions. Periodically the Facilitator will wind up one discussion topic by summarising the contributions and will send out a new topic for discussion. If the points raised are of wide general interest these summaries will be included in a routine Peace Watch to the wider mailing list and they will also be forwarded to relevant policy makers.

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