Source: ZEC’s impartiality questioned | The Financial Gazette February 9, 2017
ELECTION Resource Centre (ERC) director, Tawanda Chimhini (TC) is concerned about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s capacity to hold free and fair elections in 2018. He shares his concerns with the Financial Gazette’s correspondent, Lawrence Paganga (LP) in this interview. Excerpts.
LP: ZEC chairperson, Rita Makarau, says her organisation has drawn and finalised a roadmap for the 2018 general elections and they plan to come up with a perfect voters’ roll between April and December this year. Is this feasible?
TC: Coming up with a credible voters’ roll requires more than a roadmap. ZEC must first and foremost be applauded for coming up with the roadmap and I hope it will quickly share it will all stakeholders as soon as possible to promote transparency. Having said that, coming up with a credible voters’ roll between April and December is dependent on a number of variables. Having the resources is one element that must be considered. Government must set aside adequate resources to support, not only procurement of the equipment for the voter registration, but also build ZEC’s capacity to deploy adequate and professional staff for the requisite time period to capture voters’ details and do so fairly and credibly.
LP: ZEC has in the past been accused of employing partisan personnel and State security agents in carrying out its mandate. Do you think it would be able to recruit people whom all the stakeholders would be agreeable to?
TC: An element crucial to getting a credible voters’ roll would be the personnel recruited to conduct the voter registration process. Even if ZEC is to procure the best system to capture details of voters, that will not guarantee a perfect voters’ roll. Voter registration personnel are a corruptible element in the matrix whose vulnerabilities can only be addressed through setting up a transparent manner of recruitment with clear mechanisms to safeguard against partisan conduct in the course of administration of the process.
LP: How independent will ZEC be in carrying out the exercise without State and non-State interference?
TC: While ZEC must be allowed to operate independently as enshrined in the Constitution, every effort must be made by ZEC to remain professional, transparent and accountable in their independence. Political will is another element that can contribute to a cleaner voters’ roll by the end of 2017; political in the context of addressing current vulnerabilities of ZEC to Executive influence and allowing ZEC to operate independently.
LP: Zimbabwe’s electoral processes have been questioned before; will this negative perception change as ZEC embarks on the biometric voters registration exercise?
TC: Coming up with a clean voters’ roll will also depend on how ZEC manages stakeholder and public perceptions. ZEC has a very damaged past that needs extreme cleansing to build confidence that it can be trusted with independent, professional, transparent holding of electoral processes. The political environment in which the voter registration will take place is another element that will also contribute to the quality of the voters’ roll. Factors such as the inclusiveness of voter registration, access to correct information, free mobilisation for the people to register and free participation of people in the process to a credible voters’ roll are critical. The long and short of it is that if ZEC wants to ensure a credible voters’ roll is in place by the end of 2017, it must progressively work to ensure that the conditions across the voter registration cycle are conducive for the conduct of a credible voter registration process.
LP: What are the stakeholders’ expectations from ZEC’s elections roadmap?
TC: ZEC must guarantee that the product from the voter registration process is availed timeously for public and stakeholders scrutiny to verify its credibility. In all election processes, it is never the opinion of the election management body that matters on the credibility of both processes and products, but that of stakeholders and citizens. Therefore, ZEC must budget for confidence building more than anything. In its roadmap, ZEC must have a budget attached with evidence of allocated budgets from the State so that the plans are realistic and supported to avoid creating over expectations. It must contain options based on various scenarios that relate to our election cycle. A plan that is responsive to changes in the context, even with elections which are defined processes, may fall victim to external influences to derailment. The roadmap must also be widely shared with all stakeholders for buy-in and support.