THE government has been blasted for its lethargy in implementing electoral reforms, especially failure to ensure that draconian legislation like the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), among other laws, are repealed or amended before the forthcoming elections.
Elections Resource Centre director, Tawanda Chimhini accused Parliament of taking too long to deal with their petition, which highlighted their suggestions on electoral and legal reforms that are needed before the elections in July.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
The petition was sent to Parliament three years ago, but the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice only produced its report on the petition last week, a situation which Chimhini said showed lack of seriousness regarding electoral reforms.
“I am very disappointed that the petition was sent to Parliament three years ago, and after Parliament invested in public hearings and conferences – and the Speaker Jacob Mudenda had stressed that the Justice Parliamentary Committee should push for the amendments to the Electoral Act, the attitude of Parliament has been very bad and we are very disappointed,” he said.
“This eighth Parliament had a major role to align all the laws to the Constitution, but they have not done so, and the fact that they have taken three years to look at the ERC petition means that they have not taken public participation in law-making seriously.”
Chimhini said it was disappointing that a legal conversation on electoral reforms had been reduced to a political conversation.
“For example, if you look at the conversations pertaining to the Diaspora vote, you will find that even the President said that the problem with implementing, it was money. This is a mere excuse and if there is no Diaspora vote and alignment of the Electoral Act with the Constitution, then the elections will not be credible and they will be questioned,” he said.
Chimhini said with a few months before the elections, there is no hope that the electoral law will have substantive changes, except for the few amendments that are before Parliament.
“We have wasted three years politicking, and opposition parties in Parliament must ensure the amendments are substantive because the ruling party does not want changes to the electoral law as it benefits them,” he said.
Last year, during a conference on the ERC petition on electoral reforms, constitutional law expert, Lovemore Madhuku, said most of the changes that the ERC wanted included on the electoral laws were already within the country’s statutes. He said the only thing lacking was implementation.
“The bulk of the issues in the petition are already catered for in the current law. It is the political will to do some of those things that is not there and civic society might want to concentrate more on pushing for implementation of the law,” Madhuku said.
Some of the issues raised by the petition included the Diaspora vote, continuous voter registration, the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the role of chiefs, and law enforcement agencies during elections, and a code of conduct for political parties to ensure they desist from intimidation of voters and violence, among other issues.
The Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (Zesn) also recently appeared before Parliament, where they pressed for electoral reforms to ensure a peaceful election.
Zesn director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, told the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Peace and Security that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commision (Zec) needed to be empowered through a piece of legislation to deal with issues of political violence and voter intimidation.
Chipfunde-Vava said although the pre-elections environment has not yet recorded serious electoral violence compared to previous elections, there were other forms of subtle violence like denial of food aid to force people to support certain political parties, and recording of voter registration slips.
“Zec should have the teeth to bite. We need to support Zec to ensure they are going to necessitate a peaceful election. I know, for instance in Zambia, where the electoral body had to postpone elections because there were some cases of violence and in some cases some have even withdrawn funding for certain political parties,” she said.
Chipfunde-Vava also suggested that Zec should report to Parliament and not to a Justice minister, in order to remove the element of Executive powers over Zec.
“Zec should report to a committee in Parliament not to the minister, who is also a contesting candidate during elections,” she said.
During public hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill, members of the public were outspoken and they raised issues such as that there should not be voter intimidation, and that they should be allowed to vote for a candidate of their preference.
Other issues raised included fair coverage of all presidential candidates by the media.