guest column: Election Resource Centre
Dear President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, alarmed by the unprecedented challenges to democracy, human rights and governance created by the pandemic, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) nurtured the idea for this open letter.
The aim is to stimulate a national dialogue around key principles safeguarding elections and democracy on the second anniversary of the 2018 harmonised elections.
The ERC recognises that this is a very challenging time for the government and people of Zimbabwe as the country deals with the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus.
The government has already taken some important steps, and others may be necessary to protect those at risk.
However, the pandemic has seemingly left behind in its wake the reform agenda that had pillared the new dispensation.
It should be noted and applauded that commendable steps have been taken to repeal the repressive Public Order and Security Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act laws, which had posed a perpetual threat to the principles underpinning a democratic society and free and fair elections.
Such positive steps are key in rendering credibility to the overall electoral environment.
However, the pace at which the reforms are taking place could potentially negate the gains achieved by your administration.
From the advent of your ascension to Presidency in 2017, you outlined the basis that would inform your leadership, as you stated that your Presidency would be founded on a new dispensation, of which reforms formed the foundation.
In your very first public speech upon your return from a self-imposed exile in November 2017, you assured Zimbabweans that they were witnessing the beginning of a new unfolding democracy.
Premised on this new democracy was the alignment of existing laws to the Constitution and the changing of the electoral culture in Zimbabwe through advocating for the promotion of accountability, credibility and transparency among State institutions.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi echoed similar sentiments as he promised that all laws would be fully aligned to the Constitution by the end of 2019.
The government also made an undertaking to amend the Electoral Act by mid-2020, according to Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo, who is the deputy chairperson of the inter-ministerial taskforce on political and electoral reforms.
He promised that electoral reforms “will be completed, at the very least, by June 2020, although we aim to complete electoral reforms well before that date”.
However, two years since the 2018 harmonised elections, this promise of expedited reforms is seemingly beyond reach.
The post-2018 election environment has been dominated by non-implementation of key reforms, most of which have been repeatedly raised by election observer groups.
A glaring example is that of the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry where in a rare instance of transparency, the government allowed for an open inquest into the August 1, 2018 shooting of protesters in Harare.
However, the Motlanthe Commission recommendations have largely been ignored as the role of the security sector in elections remains a grave cause for concern which impairs the fairness of the electoral environment.
It should be further noted that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has taken a piecemeal approach to the alignment of electoral laws, policies and practice with the Constitution and international best practice.
The gradual implementation of reforms has culminated in the bare minimum of recommended reforms being adopted, such as in recent by-elections, the displaying of the voters’ rolls outside polling stations.
The government’s failure to significantly revise key laws or to address the partisan conduct of the State security, traditional leaders and the media undercuts free elections.
The repressive nature of the application of COVID-19 regulations has in more recent times impaired the credibility of the electoral environment.
The COVID-19 regulations have been used to arrest peaceful protesters and critical journalists as well as clamp down on critical media houses.
The lack of reform places a greater burden on State institutions to ensure that their conduct is constitutional outside of existing legislation.
The Zimbabwean government needs to fix all legislation affecting the electoral environment and bring it in line with both the Constitution and Zimbabwe’s international commitments.
The problems we are facing can be precisely attributed to the outstanding electoral reform issues that do not conform to either the Constitution or our international law obligations.
We, therefore, call upon your government to guarantee the full alignment of electoral laws with the Constitution, and to further guarantee a practice and policy shift that guarantees accountability, credibility, integrity and transparency to ensures a free and a fair electoral environment looking at the 2023 harmonised elections.
Mr President, there needs to be a shift beyond mere rhetoric which include genuine steps to level the electoral playing field.
The following five points focus on tangible steps the government can take to build on the work they are already doing to make the electoral process more free, fair, transparent, accountable and inclusive.
Institutional reform of Zec looking at the institutional and personnel levels as well as in organisational practices.
Reform of the legal framework for elections looking at the Electoral Act, all electoral regulations and procedures focusing on constitutionality and international best practice.
Reform of the conduct of the State media in electoral processes
Reform of the conduct of traditional leaders in political processes
Reform of the role of the military in civilian affairs
Election Resource Centre