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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
Statement regarding the report of the publication of the Zimbabwe Electoral
for Democratic Change (MDC)
September 08, 2004
The MDC notes from
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
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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