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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Review of SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections - Opinion and Analysis


  • MDC Statement regarding the report of the publication of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill
    Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
    September 08, 2004

    The MDC notes from the Herald report dated 8 Sept 2004 that the Mugabe regime has "adopted" a new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill. We note that the Herald reports that the Bill was "anxiously awaited" and that it seeks to establish an "independent electoral body". We agree that Zimbabweans have been anxiously awaiting an independent electoral body for 24 years and the publication of this Bill is an admission by the regime that our elections have not been conducted by an independent body up until now.

    We are also deeply satisfied by the fact that our extensive efforts exposing the fraudulent and unfair nature of our electoral system are finally starting to bear fruit. No matter what spin is put on the story by the Mugabe regime the fact remains that the publication of this Bill is in direct response to our efforts within Zimbabwe and in the region to bring about democratic changes to our electoral system.

    Be that as it may, from our reading of the Herald report it appears as if the proposed Bill is nothing more than another cynical attempt by the Mugabe regime to pull the wool over the eyes of Zimbabweans and international community. Final comment will have to await our reading of the actual text of the Bill but if the Herald report is accurate this Bill will not result in an independent electoral body being established and an electoral process which will comply with the SADC Principles and Guidelines governing Democratic Elections recently adopted in Mauritius.

    Firstly, it is quite clear that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill will not alter the Registrar General's involvement in the electoral process. It appears as if the registration of voters will still be done by the Registrar General's office and the Registrar General's office will still actually run the elections. It is no secret that the Registrar General's office, especially under Mr Mudede, is a partisan body and has been the primary means used by the Mugabe regime to subvert the electoral process. For so long as the Registrar General's office is involved in running the elections they will not be a free and fair.

    It is important to note in this regard that section 7.3 of the SADC Principles compels member states to "establish impartial, all-inclusive, competent and accountable national electoral bodies" to run elections. The Registrar General's office does not meet any of these criteria. It is biased, excludes any representation from the opposition or civil society, is incompetent and is only accountable to the President. The new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill does not address these concerns.

    Secondly, despite what it says, the new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission will not be independent. The Herald report itself says that the President will point the chairperson of the Commission after consultation with the Judicial Services Commission, and four others will be chosen from a list of seven nominees submitted by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders. The Judicial Services Commission, as it is presently constituted, is dominated by Presidential appointees. So it is quite clear that the chairperson of the Commission, an all-important position, will be chosen by an interested party, namely the President. The Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders is dominated by ZANU PF and so the seven nominees the President has to choose from will inevitably be predominantly made up of people acceptable to ZANU PF.

    Once again the composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission itself simply does not meet the standard imposed by section 7.3 of the SADC Principles to have an impartial electoral commission. The fact that the Bill states that the commission will be independent does not make it independent. It is also pertinent to note that section 7.1 of the SADC Principles states that member states are to "ensure the scrupulous implementation" of the Principles. This means that member states are not to engage in trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. When it says that the national electoral body must be impartial and all-inclusive then it must be so.

    Thirdly, it is clear from the report that the Mugabe regime has no intention of ensuring that all political parties have equal opportunity to access the state media. The report states that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission may devise regulations for reasonable and equal access by political parties to radio and television broadcasting services during an election period. There is no doubt that this is a cynical attempt by the Mugabe regime to confine the access of opposition political parties to the ZBC to a narrow window of time just before the holding of an election which can be as little as five weeks in terms of the Electoral Act.

    The SADC principles use the phrase "electoral process" rather than the phrase "election period" used in this Bill. There is a very important difference between the two phrases. The phrase "electoral process" is much wider than the phrase "election period" and includes the period when, for example, voter registration takes place. In other words it includes the entire process running up to an election such as is taking place in America at present. In the Zimbabwean context it certainly includes the present time when the general public is living in anticipation of an election to be held next year. In other words the SADC Principles oblige member states to allow equal opportunity for all political parties to access state media throughout the entire electoral process, and not just immediately prior to the election. The proposed provisions in the Bill clearly do not meet the SADC standard and are yet another example of an attempt by the Mugabe regime to deny the opposition access to the media and yet at the same time to make a token attempt to comply with the SADC Principles.

    Fourthly, the report shows that the Mugabe regime has no intention of reverting back to the provisions that applied prior to 2002 regarding voter education. Since 2002 the regime has sought to prevent civil society from engaging in voter education. The proposed Bill appears to contain very similar provisions to the controversial NGO bill in that it effectively bans NGOs from using foreign donations to fund voter education activities.

    These provisions are in direct conflict with sections 2.1.8 and 7.4 of the SADC Principles which enshrine the right of all citizens to engage in voter education in pursuit of their human and civil liberties including their rights of freedom of movement, assembly, association and expression.

    From the Herald report it appears that the Bill is silent on a whole range of other obligations member states have to implement to ensure compliance with the SADC Principles. For example, section 4.1.4 of the SADC Principles speaks of the existence of an updated and accessible voters' roll. The Herald report is silent about this particular obligation and if the utterances in Parliament by the Minister Justice recently are anything to go by the opposition will continue to be denied access to an electronic copy of the voters' roll.

    Furthermore the SADC principles oblige member states to protect freedom of association, ensure that adequate security is provided to all parties and to foster a climate of political tolerance. These proposed changes make no mention of any proposed amendments to POSA and AIPPA which are necessary if the SADC Principles are to be complied with. There is no mention in the report that the Mugabe Youth Militia will be disbanded.

    In conclusion it will be quite clear to Zimbabweans and to Regional Governments that this proposed Bill does not bring about any meaningful change to Zimbabwe's authoritarian and draconian electoral laws and environment. If the Mugabe regime is serious about complying with SADC Principles then it will have to go back to the drawing board prior to the commencement of Parliament in October.

    David Coltart MP
    MDC Secretary for legal affairs

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