ZIMBABWE Election Support Network (ZESN), the largest independent electoral watchdog in Zimbabwe had an eventful 2018 deploying thousands of observers to observe key electoral processes namely the biometric voter registration, the inspection of the voters’ roll, the nomination of election candidates, campaigns and on election day. As Zimbabwe begins a new electoral cycle, the Daily News on Sunday’s Assistant Editor Maxwell Sibanda interviewed the ZESN chairperson, Andrew Makoni to get insights into the Network’s activities in the year 2018 electoral processes and planned interventions for 2019.
Q. Compliments of the season, to begin with, how would you assess your 2018, did you manage to achieve your set goals and objectives?
Thank you. In a nutshell there is general consensus that the 2018 elections were an improvement when compared to previous elections. However, that is not to say that everything was done well. There are plenty of missed opportunities to completely break from the past and doubtless we will be working flat out to have these addressed as we move towards the next elections. Now to respond to your question, ZESN managed to achieve its set goals, we managed to play our electoral watchdog role and comprehensively observe all key electoral processes and keep the public informed of developments on the biometric voter registration, voters’ roll inspection, nomination court, political party campaigns, Election Day processes and the post-election period events and environment. This enabled us to make informed assessments and recommendations on how to improve the management of elections in Zimbabwe.
Q. In the past there have been complaints by civil society and political commentators that recommendations by election observers are either ignored or effected too late to make an impact. In your view, what should be done to ensure recommendations by election observers are implemented timeously?
The timeous implementation of recommendations by all election observers is central to improving electoral processes in Zimbabwe in line with international standards. Firstly, it is important for the election reports to be made available to the public for accountability purposes particularly for SADC and AU. Secondly, it is important for Election observer missions to track and closely monitor implementation of their recommendations to ensure that they are implemented before the next elections. The implementation of recommendations should also form part of the observer missions’ assessment of elections in the future elections.
Q. What are the key recommendations for future electoral processes?
Having observed the various electoral processes in 2018, ZESN proffered a plethora of recommendations which were also echoed by other observer missions. We strongly feel that it is imperative for the government, parliament and the electoral Commission to ensure that these recommendations are implemented before the 2023 elections.
The lethargic attempts at implementing reforms since the 2013 Constitution are worrying, hence the foremost recommendation is need for a comprehensive review of Zimbabwe’s electoral framework to ensure full alignment with the Constitution.
One of the key recommendations by ZESN and other observer missions is for the government to set up an Electoral and Political Reforms taskforce comprising Parliament, political parties, CSOs and churches to closely monitor the implementation of recommendations by local, regional and international election observers and spearhead electoral and political reforms ahead of the 2023 elections.
In terms of results management there is need for a more transparent results transmission system where presidential results from each polling station are transmitted directly to the nation results collations centre. ZEC should pursue an open data policy that includes the prompt displaying of election results forms at polling stations, for each polling station, disaggregated by demographic variables and post those forms on its website.
The ratification and domestication of regional and international legal frameworks that relate to electoral processes, for example the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) must be expedited before the 2023 polls.
In terms of the voters’ roll and voter registration, the Electoral Law should provide a specific timeframe for the final voters’ roll to be availed to the political contestants. The law should instruct ZEC to inform registrants who are removed from the roll and the reasons for their removal. In addition, ZEC should facilitate ease of registration in urban areas in view of lowest registration statistics in Harare and Bulawayo, in particular, and urban areas in general compared to rural areas.
Voter education should be provided on a continuous basis and should be focus on the secrecy of the ballot and allaying of misinformation. ZEC should ensure timely media monitoring in future elections and set up adequate mechanisms to ensure compliance with provisions that promote fair, equitable, balanced coverage of political players and deter hate speech and fake news especially on social media. There are several recommendations proffered in our Election report; these I have mentioned here are the key ones.
ZEC must also put in place measures to extend universal suffrage to Zimbabweans in the diaspora so that they are able to vote in the 2023 elections and future election.
Q. In your view how successful were your lobby and advocacy initiatives in 2018?
We noted significant improvements in the 2018 elections some of which were as a result of the advocacy work that ZESN and other CSOs did. In order to consolidate electoral reforms efforts by various CSOs, ZESN established a working group to spearhead the reforms agenda. In terms of successes we noted the adoption of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) which was a key advocacy point for the working group facilitating the crafting of a new voters’ roll. Given the failure of the 2013 voters’ roll to the test of accuracy, completeness and currency it was therefore imperative to put in place a new voters’ roll before the holding of the 2018 polls.
Having observed voter registration in Kenya and Uganda where technologies were successfully integrated into the voter registration process, we went a step further to lobby for the use of web portals and SMS platforms for the inspection of the voters’ rolls. We are glad that this recommendation was taken on board and well received by the electorate and key election stakeholders.
Another notable success was the removal of restrictions to organisations that sought to conduct voter education. In addition, through our various engagements with ZEC we were called upon to contribute to the broad voter education strategy.
While taking note of the aforementioned successes, we are cognizant of the fact that there are still gaps that need to be addressed and this is what our efforts from 2019 going forwards will be focused on.
Q. The Speaker of parliament commended your organisation for constant engagements with the Institution, what would you say were the major successes? What are your future engagement plans?
Since the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution, various civic organisations have been pushing for alignment of the electoral laws and Parliament through various pieces of legislation reviewed some of the sticking issues. In our view the amendments to the Act failed to adequately harmonise the Constitution of Zimbabwe with the electoral laws. In collaboration with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights we submitted a number of legal papers and analysis of the Electoral Act for consideration by parliament to ensure comprehensive reforms to the electoral laws. The engagements were not only targeted at Parliament, we also presented the same to the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the ZEC. As we begin 2019, we recognise that more still needs to be done for Zimbabwe to have a comprehensive electoral framework. We will escalate our advocacy efforts with the relevant institutions to implement the outstanding issues as well as recommendations proffered by the various election observer missions who observed the 2018 harmonised elections.
Q. What are the key issues for advocacy efforts that you will be focusing on in 2019 and beyond?
Our advocacy efforts are going to be focused on implementation of improvements to the electoral landscape in Zimbabwe. Pursuant to this, soon after the 2018 harmonised elections, ZESN in collaboration with other civic society organisations petitioned Parliament to implement a raft of reforms to the country’s electoral laws ahead of the 2023 elections. We felt it was imperative to begin advocacy on electoral reforms soon after the polls to allow for ample time for Parliament to reflect and consider the issues and recommendations not only by ZESN but also from the various local and international election observers.
Some of the key issues raised in our petition include; the overhaul of Zimbabwe’s electoral law and electoral processes, enhancing the independence of ZEC and other independent commissions connected to the electoral cycle, reviewing the provisions around the delimitation of constituencies, the need to review the provisions on political parties’ regulation.
In light of the disputes regarding the results management for the 2018, the petition calls for the tightening of provisions on results management to enhance transparency and reduce suspicions of vote manipulation and results contestation.
Q. The country is set to conduct a delimitation exercise, what are your recommendations for this exercise?
The delimitation exercise is a crucial exercise which if conducted well should result in the streamlining of constituencies that are too big and those that are too small. In terms of the law, the boundary delimitation exercise should be completed no less than one year prior to the 2023 elections in line with provisions that no constituency should have more than 20 percent variation in registered voters. The delimitation exercise must take into account the principle of devolution embraced in the Constitution.
Our recommendation is for the ZEC to conduct stakeholder consultations on the process to ensure compliance with international standards of equal voting strength, representativeness, and community of interest.
In view of the existing gaps in electoral law, there is need for the ZEC to convene an all-inclusive Electoral Reforms Working Group to strengthen the integrity of electoral processes. The working group could include all Chapter 12 institutions, Parliament, political parties, CSOs, and eminent persons.
In a bid to enhance understanding on delimitation, ZESN held a Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections focusing with various electoral stakeholders. In addition, we will be closely monitoring and observing the delimitation process to ascertain level of compliance with principles of representativeness, equality of voting strength and reciprocity.
Let me just explain the principle of reciprocity, in an ideal situation, the legal framework for boundary delimitation should provide that the institution responsible for drawing electoral boundaries be independent from Executive interference and impartial.
Q. Any advice on what role the media should play during this phase of the electoral cycle?
The media must continue to play its critical role in providing accurate electoral information to the public in an objective and unbiased manner. ZESN will continue to engage and partner with the media to enhance access to credible electoral information on processes such as the delimitation exercise, by-elections, civic and voter education and on advocacy for electoral reform issues. It is important for the media to take note of the recommendations by the various election observer missions and implement them.
It is also essential for ZEC to craft measures to compel the media to adhere to provisions for election reporting as noted in our 2018 election recommendations for the media.
Q. The next elections are scheduled for 2023, what will your organisation be doing in the period in between?
During this post-election period, ZESN engages election activities meant to improve the electoral framework in Zimbabwe. For instance, we conduct observation of key electoral processes such as by-elections, and legal research to inform our advocacy for electoral reforms initiatives. In addition, ZESN observes elections in other countries in order to ascertain international best practices and standards that Zimbabwe can adopt for the improvement of our elections. Lastly, in pursuance of our objective of enhancing understanding of electoral processes by the electorate, we conduct civic and electoral education as well as public awareness initiatives continuously around the electoral cycle as well.