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  • 2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles

  • Press release on 2008 harmonized elections
    Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJP)
    March 28, 2008

    The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ) notes that nearly six million Zimbabweans will be, for the first time in their political history, holding complex and simultaneous presidential, legislative (House of Assembly and Senate), and local government elections and all on the same day (March 29, 2008) and under new regulations. The new rules are partly in conformity with the 2004 SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections - to which Zimbabwe is a signatory - as well as a product of the SADC-mediated talks between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition MDC. On February 8, 2008 the CCJP issued a press statement raising "concerns for urgent attention on the forthcoming harmonised elections." Regrettably, little has been done to address those concerns and, since then, more grave concerns have surfaced.

    As in 2005, the CCJP recognizes and welcomes the considerable progress made in improving the political and electoral playing ground. This has contributed significantly to the relaxed electoral terrain and a far less repressive campaign climate than in other elections since 2000. We particularly welcome the following:

    • The amendments (albeit limited) to contentious statues notably the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Electoral Act and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) that received bi-partisan support in December 2007. The spirit of the SADC talks led by President Thabo Mbeki helped in partially dissolving the chronic suspicion and distrust between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC and has contributed to the improved political climate.
    • Pronouncements by various political leaders exhorting their supporters to refrain from violent political campaigns and the considerable extent to which these calls have been observed. As a consequence, throughout the country, the political atmosphere for the upcoming elections has been significantly more conducive than at any time in the post-2000 period. All political parties and candidates have largely been able to campaign freely, communicate their political messages without undue hindrances and their supporters have tolerated each other remarkably well. This is as things should be. The police force has by and large conducted itself in a professional manner with senior police officers assuring voters that they will adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to political violence. Most contestants have expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the police.
    • The consolidation of electoral agencies and functions in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) unlike in 2005 when several electoral bodies existed, with overlapping functions and causing unnecessary confusion among all stakeholders.
    • The extension of the voter inspection exercise from the initial 1-7 February to 15 February 2008.
    • The significant improvement in media coverage in the last two weeks of campaigning though this should have been done much earlier to ensure a level playing field.

    While welcoming the above positive developments, CCJP however expresses grave concern at the following

    • The apparent impotence of designated electoral institutions to do their job with confidence, autonomy and impartiality. This is with particular reference to the Electoral Court and ZEC. In mid-March, the Electoral Court turned down an application by one of the opposition faction seeking an order compelling election authorities to: (a) disclose information pertaining to the number of ballot papers printed for the elections; (b) order ZEC to disclose the identity of the firm contracted to print ballot papers; (c) allow inspection and auditing of ballot papers; and (d) order ZEC to increase the number of polling stations in urban areas. The Electoral Court claimed it had no jurisdiction to hear the matters when in fact it was created to adjudicate on electoral matters. Fair minded Zimbabweans found this judgement baffling.
    • We also highlight the reluctance of ZEC to clarify the inconsistencies in the Electoral Act regarding circumstances surrounding a Presidential run-off. Section 110 (3) of the Electoral Act allows for a run-off within 21 days if none of the candidates emerges with clear majority of the total number of valid votes cast while as Section 3 (1) of the second schedule of the same Act says the candidate with a plurality of votes - and not necessarily a majority of the votes - should be declared the winner.
    • As many observers have noted, this inconsistency has great potential to not only cause confusion but bitter disputes if none of the candidates achieves at least 51% of the valid votes cast. This confusion can easily be avoided by a prompt and decisive interpretation that guides all stakeholders.
    • The breach of procedural consensus on aspects of the administration of elections. Particularly worrisome is the role of the so-called National Command Centre, an agency which does not appear in the governing electoral law, and which not only operates in an opaque way but is staffed largely by military officers. The place of the Command Centre is especially critical given the controversial announcement by ZEC, and which some players contend is illegal, to have the results of the presidential election announced at the Command Centre. The law prescribes counting of ballot papers for candidates in each of the elections to be done at the polling stations and the results displayed on the door of the polling station as public notices. CCJP is gravely concerned at this vitiation of the law and which has the effect of casting doubt on the results.
    • We are also acutely concerned at the unilateral amendment under the controversial Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act of the Electoral Act which had the effect of abolishing a new electoral provision enacted in January as one of the fruits of the SADC negotiations and which excluded police from being present in polling stations. Under the Statutory Instrument, "police officers on duty" are now allowed to be present in a polling station to assist illiterate and disabled voters.
    • Electoral Act failed to clearly distinguish between functions of the ZEC and of the Registrar General's office. The former is meant to maintain the voters roll but the latter retains responsibility for registration giving rise to a "recipe for confusion." The Electoral Act should have transferred management of all electoral processes to the ZEC, including management of the voters roll.
    • Mobile voter registration exercises, voter education, and inspection of voters roll were all characterised by logistical problems. Many voters and communities were not aware of voter registration or inspection exercises.
    • Even in the last two weeks of campaigning, Government and the ruling party continued to retain tight control of television and radio, which they sometimes used to threaten and insult political opponents. CCJP noted the bias, inequality and unfairness of the reporting of elections in favour of the ruling party.
    • The controversial Media and Information Commission (MIC) was also to have been reconstituted and renamed Zimbabwe Media Council but there appeared to be little time for this. Similarly, ZEC which was given the added responsibility of delimiting parliamentary constituency and council ward boundaries did not finalise its work until 17 January 2008. Only one copy of the report was presented in Parliament and the legislature adjourned before it could debate the report. This whole fast-tracked process generated accusations - valid or not - of gerrymandering electoral districts by ZEC on behalf of ZANU-PF.
    • Declarations by various security chiefs - the Commissioner-General of Police, the Commander of the Defence Forces and the Commissioner of Prisons - to the effect that they would not recognise the election of any one other than the incumbent as president of the country. Such inflammatory statements raise tensions and have the clear effect of intimidating the voting public. In a democracy, it is not the function of security forces to veto the will of the people and CCJP regrets that ZEC was unable or unwilling to sanction such conduct.
    • Reported abuse of state resources manifested in alleged politically motivated distribution of food aid in the midst of widespread scarcities. We also noted the manipulation of traditional and community leaders for partisan purposes and the patronage uses of farming inputs and equipment under the guise of the farm mechanisation programme.
    • There was late and inadequate voter education. The law allows the monopolisation of voter education in the ZEC except for activities by NGOs sanctioned by ZEC. Many voters might fail to cast their ballots because of the redrawing of constituency and ward boundaries and new voting procedures, including ward-based voting. Efforts by other civic bodies to complement ZEC's work were frustrated which barred these organisation -including the Zimbabwe Election Support Network - from carrying out voter education. As a result, we fear the chaos that is likely on voting day with confusion reigning, many spoilt papers and widespread disenfranchisement. We are afraid that many eligible voters lack information about where and how to cast their ballots in four-tier elections and under rules different from previous elections.
    • The inexplicable variance in the allocation of polling stations between urban and rural constituencies. The skewed distribution has resulted in far fewer voting stations in urban compared to rural areas. Polling stations in urban areas will be responsible for more than three times the number of registered voters as polling stations in the rural areas.
    • CCJP is also disturbed by reports attributed to ZEC that it may take several days before the election results are announced because of the difficulties of tabulating and tallying the results.
    • The state of the voters roll, the alleged printing of 600 000 postal votes and an order to print 9 million ballot papers when the total number of registered voters according to ZEC was 5,9 million people raises eyebrows on the motive.

    In conclusion, the token amendments to the electoral laws and the grave issues that the Commission has raised renders the poll not being able to express the will of the electorate. We are however hopeful that all voters that are registered should be allowed to cast their ballots. We urge all to remain calm after the poll announcement and peacefully manage any disputes.

    *Alouis Munyaradzi Chaumba; National Director . +263 912 413 485/ + 263 11875993

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