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Electoral reforms questionable
Vincent Kahiya, Zimbabwe Independent
December 07, 2007

THE Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) has come up with an important critique of the recently gazetted Electoral Laws Amendment Bill which seeks to align the country's laws governing elections with Constitutional Amendments numbers 17 and 18.

Zesn's 10 000-word document was authored last month and fears contained therein were confirmed this week when President Mugabe gave his state-of-the-nation address on Tuesday. The president said Zimbabwe will only invite friendly nations to observe next year's combined elections.

Under the new provisions contained in the Bill, all observers will have to be accredited by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)'s Observation Accreditation Committee. It is proposed in the Bill that half the members of the six-member committee are commissioners and the rest are ministerial and presidential nominees. Zesn observes that the three ministerial nominees will still exert a partisan influence when it comes to inviting observers. More egregious is the ministerial power of veto contained in the provisions. This will be used to exclude observers who might be prepared to find fault in the electoral process.

"The ministerial power of veto over the accreditation of representatives from other regional electoral bodies is particularly startling," Zesn says. "It is a gross insult to the integrity and independence of the electoral commission."

Zesn also notes: "The provisions of the Amendment Bill relating to observers fail to effect the changes that would ensure that a wide cross-section of observers are accredited and that the ruling party will not be able to cherry-pick who will be accredited."

But Mugabe has said his government will do so which questions the independence of the electoral commission. The whole idea of amending the Electoral Act and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act is to make institutions entrusted with running polls as independent as possible. The government has pitched the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill as part of this endeavour but the ZEC remains in the clutches of Zanu PF which has already started publicly dictating to it the dos and don'ts of next year's elections.

Observers must not be selected on the basis of their bias in favour of one party or another. In the 2002 presidential election a number of foreign observer missions were denied entry to Zimbabwe, whilst many domestic observers were denied accreditation due to discriminatory procedures, Zesn said. In the 2005 parliamentary election only organisations and persons considered to be sympathetic to the ruling party were invited to conduct electoral observation. All other institutions and persons were excluded.

The Zesn document says the African Union Guidelines for African Union Electoral Observation and Monitoring Missions states: "International, regional and national observers have come to play an important role in enhancing the transparency and credibility of elections and democratic governance in Africa."

That is to say elections are given legitimacy if they are endorsed by local, regional and international observers.

The government of President Mugabe will brandish the Bill as evidence of progressive electoral reform in the country but that is not good enough. As observed by Zesn the effectiveness of any electoral reforms depends on how the electoral laws are applied and enforced in practice. Legislation alone cannot prevent malpractices.

The electoral commission is also up to scrutiny on how it is going to ensure there is equitable media coverage of all contesting parties in the poll. There is no way this equity is going to be possible as long as there is no diversity in the electronic media in which Zanu PF holds all levers of control. I do not see the commission speaking out against the abuse of state resources by the President and Zanu PF to campaign in the poll. Only last week state resources were harnessed to transport Zanu PF supporters to the "million man march". There will be more activities of this nature in the new year.

Zimbabwe has suffered immensely from the question of President Mugabe's legitimacy following the disputed 2002 presidential poll.

The president's statement this week on election observers grossly undermines the integrity of next year's poll. Why does Mugabe want the legitimacy of his rule to be adjudicated by a jury of his friends only?

Given the fact that there has been widespread doubt about the fairness and integrity of the election process in Zimbabwe in the past, it is vitally important that there should be extensive observation of the next election by a wide cross-section of observers.

The presence of local, regional and international observers is essential to help confer legitimacy on the outcome and to provide an objective analysis of claims of fraud or other electoral malpractices.

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