via We need tighter benchmarks | The Zimbabwean by Editor
There is need for stakeholders—local, regional and continental—to tighten the benchmarks regarding the legitimacy and fairness of elections in order to guarantee that the will of the people prevails all the time and a popularly desired government rules.
Recent elections in Zimbabwe make this not only desirable, but urgent. In the 2008 elections, following a bloody runoff, President Robert Mugabe, who ran alone when Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew citing widespread violence, still proceeded to be inaugurated and formed a cabinet. Attending international summits, he was recognised as Zimbabwe’s Head of State.
Granted, the regional, continental and international communities condemned the runoff as illegitimate, but the fact remains that most of them still recognised Mugabe, even before the formation of the Government of National Unity. In effect, even if there was no coalition government set up in early 2009, Mugabe would still have ruled and enjoyed recognition from probably most of Africa and other parts of the world.
Last month’s poll that was clearly corrupted by irregularities that even authorities like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission have acknowledged. This included the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters through a shoddy and too-short registration exercise, the failure to avail sufficient voter education campaigns and the exclusion of externally based Zimbabweans, in addition to seemingly deliberate exclusion of close to a million voters based in urban areas.
There were numerous reports of the manipulation and intimidation of voters and the partisan nature of the ZEC, which is supposed to be an independent body, together with the suspiciously high numbers of people who voted without appearing on the voters’ roll.
MDC-T has withdrawn its poll petitions from the courts, but this does not mean that claims of fraudulent elections fall away.
That is why we are calling for clear and quantifiable benchmarks to assess elections. Instead of, as has been the case in Zimbabwe and other parts of the continent, depending mostly on subjective terms such as ‘free and fair’ . These terms ignore realities on the ground – mostly out of expediency by observers. We need to state categorically what is needed for an election to be acceptable and legitimate.
The starting point would be local laws that ought to state clearly what must obtain in terms of voter registration and education, polling, ballot counting, delimitation and conduct of political parties – as opposed to using vague terms like “free”, “legitimate” and “fair”.
The electoral law must state, for instance, that where a fifth of the population fails to register, any election that follows is null and void, or that, if there is evidence of voter manipulation in one third of the constituencies, the elections cannot be popularly acceptable.