President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s pledge to deliver a free and fair election next year has been put under test by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Rita Makarau’s shock resignation.
By OBEY MANAYITI
Makarau, considered to be a loyalist of former president Robert Mugabe, threw in the towel last week, less than a month after the 93-year-old Zanu PF founder member was forced to resign by the military.
Mnangagwa pledged to return the country to democracy with a credible election soon after he was ushered into power by the generals.
Former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara said Makarau’s departure was linked to Zanu PF factionalism and could have an impact on preparations for the polls.
“The ‘forced’ resignation of Rita Makarau on a factional basis, as she was seen as close to the G40 faction, is not progress,” the former MDC leader said.
“In fact, it is retrogression because the objective is to appoint a person more amenable and pliable to the military-backed Lacoste regime in Zimbabwe.”
He said Mnangagwa’s administration had to prove itself, that it was committed to delivering free and fair elections by immediately implementing urgent electoral reforms.
“What is required to prepare for the 2018 general elections are far-reaching changes, which include electoral, media, diaspora vote, political and legislative reforms,” Mutambara said.
“The Zimbabwean electoral agenda should be able to enable and facilitate free and credible elections and not settle Zanu PF factional disputes.
“The regime in Zimbabwe must reach out to civic society and the opposition parties. They should establish an inclusive roadmap to free, fair and credible elections in 2018.”
Makarau was backed by a faction loyal to Mugabe known as G40 to succeed the late chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku last year and was pitted against High Court judge president George Chiweshe, a favourite of a Zanu PF faction that supports Mnangagwa.
The post was eventually given to Chidyausiku’s former deputy, Justice Luke Malaba after a fierce factional war that played out in the courts and the media.
Makarau’s departure has alarmed civil society, which fears a candidate who is more amenable to the Zanu PF faction that is now in control would be appointed to replace her.
Election Resource Centre (ERC) director Tawanda Chimhini said Makarau had struck a good working relationship with civil society, which made ZEC more accessible.
He feared a return to the past where the electoral body regarded civil society as an irritant rather than a partner if her successor was not independent.
“Rita Makarau was a clear departure from the old tradition of election administration experienced since 2000,” Chimhini said.
“Hers was a blend of delicate balancing of expected engagement with stakeholders while allowing the secretariat to administer electoral processes with the legendary limited transparency and accountability.
“Her administration made appreciating her accessibility a difficult venture given the secrecy shrouding key election processes superintended by the old guard that has been at the helm of the ZEC for the past nearly two decades
“Under her watch, Zec was able to allow key administrative reforms such as the introduction of biometric voter registration [BVR] while also allowing the reversal of key issues such as special voting.”
Chimhini said Makarau would be remembered for introducing stakeholder engagement platforms allowing political parties, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations and the media to scrutinise Zec’s management of elections.
He said the next Zec chairperson must inspire confidence among voters who have little faith in the country’s electoral system.
“Zimbabwe needs a ZEC chairperson with a proven capacity and political will to marshal the ZEC secretariat towards transparent and accountable conduct without fear or favour,” he said.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network of Zimbabwe (Zesn) also bemoaned Makarau’s departure, saying it came at a critical time in the country’s electoral cycle.
Zec is in the middle of a BVR exercise meant to create a new voters’ roll ahead of the 2018 polls.
“At this critical juncture; as the voter registration process is about to conclude and preparations for the 2018 elections are rolled out, it is imperative that proper constitutionally aligned electoral laws, effective electoral administrative arrangements and a conducive political environment are established,” Zesn director Rindai Vava said.
“If these reports are true [that Makarau resigned], one of the key asks for the incoming chairperson is to ensure that the BVR blitz is completed and possibly be extended beyond previously scheduled dates as current indications are showing low turnout.
“Furthermore, a raft of other administrative reforms must be implemented to ensure an efficient and effective electoral framework before the 2018 elections.”
The National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) said the Zec chairperson’s abrupt departure was a blow to opposition parties that had been pushing for a level playing field in the forthcoming polls.
Nera spokesperson Davis Jnr Mukushwa said although they had several running battles with Makarau, her sudden departure cannot be celebrated.
“Bringing in a new chairperson barely seven months to an election is not just disruptive, but presents pertinent credibility issues of the change,” he said.
“What remains unknown to Nera is her reasons for stepping down now, when she resisted the pressure we applied on her for the same for the past four and half years.”
Mukushwa said Makarau must be credited for honouring her commitment to stakeholders to initiate the BVR exercise by refusing to allow the registrar general Tobaiwa Mudede to interfere in the process.
He said the failure to implement electoral reforms remained a major concern for opposition parties.
“Finally, and most importantly, Makarau declined to make sufficient disclosure of the central data server system, other than regularly flip-flopping on the matter.”
“At one point she noted that a separate tendering process will be done, then on the BVR launch highlighted that the United Nations Development Programme had secured a server for Zec long back.
Particularly, the rejection by Makarau to have the server inspected and tested for pre-loaded content and or temper proof as well as denial to allow independent audit of the final voters’ roll that will be generated after the ongoing BVR exercise, have heightened the integrity concerns.”
Opposition parties said they wanted to know the reason behind Makarau’s resignation before commenting on the matter.
Makarau took over from the previous Zec chairperson, the late Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe in 2013.
Matambanengwe was allegedly pushed out of the electoral body for reportedly holding views contrary to those of a Zanu PF clique that viewed him as a danger to their political survival ahead of watershed elections during the inclusive government.
During Makarau’s tenure, a series of demonstrations were held against the manner in which she was managing the electoral body, particularly the implementation of the BVR process, including the procurement of registration kits.