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Electoral framework
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted fromWeekly Media Update 2005-3
Monday January 17th – Sunday 23rd January 2005

THE media’s watchdog role was again tainted this week by their failure to thoroughly re-examine the country’s electoral framework, which the authorities have repeatedly claimed was being reformed to level the playing field ahead of the March elections in accordance with the SADC guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections.

Two important pieces of legislation were gazetted during the week; the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act and the Electoral Act, which the private media subjected to some critical analysis when they were originally introduced for debate in Parliament. The government-controlled press published the provisions at the time, but the coverage by ZBH, the national public broadcaster, was particularly superficial and biased. But publishing legislative provisions and explaining to the public their effects on the democratic process are two very different things. In fact, the government media attempted to portray the so-called ‘electoral reform laws’ as measures that brought Zimbabwe’s electoral laws into line with the SADC guidelines.

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, and although the private media did a better job then of explaining the electoral changes in the context of the democratic process, they did little this week to remind the public of the serious doubts relating to the impartiality and transparency of the electoral process arising from a number of provisions in the two new electoral laws.

For example, none of the media attempted to unravel the confusing roles to be played by the newly appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC). Instead of fully informing their audiences on the nominal responsibilities of the ZEC and how it would relate to the constitutionally established ESC whose members are appointed by the President, the media simply narrowed their debate on the impartiality of the new Commission.

While the government media, as illustrated by The Herald (21/1), endorsed the appointment of the ZEC, the private media (Zimbabwe Independent, Studio 7 & SW radio Africa 21/1 and The Standard 23/1) questioned the objectivity of the new body, particularly that of its chairman, Justice George Chiweshe, whose neutrality the MDC doubted.

As a result, the exact division of labour between the ESC and ZEC went unexplored. Nor was it explained which one had supremacy over the other, or indeed, why both were necessary.

Neither did the media provide pertinent information on the alarming fact that the ZEC has also been empowered by Section 17 of the new Electoral Act to recruit the police and armed forces to run the elections. The whole issue of impartiality in the conduct of the election has been undermined by allowing the possibility of government employees, particularly the military, to run all aspects of voting and verification during the election. It is no secret that the armed forces ran many aspects of the Presidential election in 2002. Now their participation has been legalized.

Also, none of the media have revealed that another body called the Observers’ Accreditation Committee (OAC), is to be established under the authority of the ESC and composed of individuals nominated by government, bringing to six the number of electoral bodies responsible for various aspects of the election. These are the ESC, ZEC, the Delimitation Commission, Registrar-General’s Office, the Elections Directorate and OAC. There was again no clarity in the media on how these bodies would relate to each other.

Meanwhile, more confusion on the country’s preparations for the elections emerged when The Herald (17/1) reported Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede announcing that the registration of new voters and inspection of the voters’ roll would take place simultaneously between January 17th and 30th.

None of the media sought clarification over the matter or challenged the authorities on how they had demarcated constituencies when registration of voters was still on-going.

The failure by the media to expose such pertinent issues give the authorities latitude to manipulate the electoral framework and make it impossible for the people to fully participate in choosing leaders of their choice.

It is therefore imperative that the media should be tenacious in publicizing such issues so that the electorate are aware of policies and decisions that have a strong bearing on their democratic rights.

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