Source: ZANU-PF versus electoral reforms | The Financial Gazette September 22, 2016
By Jacob Rukweza
“I WANT to emphasise that through the collaboration of ZANU-PF and all MDC formations — and before their own splintering and before Zimbabwe People First, because that one was also part of us as we were negotiating levelling of the political ground — electoral reforms were done and there is no validity, no basis whatsoever to be demanding electoral reforms.
“What I understand they are saying, and which is not possible, is that we should put into the law that people should vote for them. It’s unheard of that we put in the electoral law and the Constitution that the opposition parties must win”.
The above statement by Finance and Economic Development Minister and ZANU-PF’s legal affairs secretary, Patrick Chinamasa, summarises the attitude of the ruling party and government towards the call by opposition parties for wide-ranging electoral reforms.
This statement comes as 18 opposition parties working under the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) banner have been advocating comprehensive electoral reforms in order to have free and fair elections.
Among other things, the opposition parties are calling for the demilitarisation and total independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Opposition parties say ZEC should not be manned by compromised officials or members of the army or State security forces.
For instance, the opposition parties argue that ZEC chairperson, Justice Rita Makarau, who is also the secretary of the Judicial Services Commission, is compromised, since she is the one who appoints judges to the Electoral Court, who, in turn, are required to preside over matters involving ZEC.
The opposition parties are also demanding the introduction of a biometric voting system and the abandonment of the use of voter registration slips for identity when voting to avoid rigging.
Opposition parties also want an accurate and up-to-date electronic voters’ roll to be made available to all interested political players before the holding of any election in order to ensure transparency.
The opposition parties are agitating for postal voting to be implemented in accordance with the SADC Protocol and Guidelines on the holding of free and fair elections.
Opposition parties also want a clear definition of voter education that recognises the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the involvement of all political players in voter education.
The opposition wants all political parties involved in elections to participate in all essential activities of ZEC in order to make the process transparent.
Parties also want traditional leaders to be barred from taking part in partisan political activities.
Opposition parties want all national laws, particularly laws such as Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Broadcasting Services Act and the Electoral Act, to be harmonised with the new Constitution.
The parties say members of the security services, in particular Central Intelligence Organisation, Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the Zimbabwe Republic Police operatives, should be barred from participating in any political activities or running elections.
Under NERA, the parties are also calling for the implementation of the Diaspora vote and total compliance with all the provisions of Chapter 7 of the new Constitution which deals with elections.
In addition, opposition parties are also demanding the announcement of a clear road-map to the next election by ZEC — a road-map complete with processes and time-frames.
As a means to force the ZANU-PF government to implement these electoral reforms before the 2018 elections, opposition parties have planned a series of demonstrations across the country.
But Chinamasa and other leading lights in the ruling ZANU-PF party have declared that there will be no reforms ahead of expected crunch general elections in 2018.
Chinamasa insists that there is no basis for the opposition to demand electoral reforms.
“The point I’m making is that the MDCs have no basis to demand any electoral reforms, and in fact as you are aware, they fear to lose elections,” he said.
He said opposition parties clamouring for electoral reforms because they were afraid of losing elections.
“As you know, Parliament has thrown out members who were elected in 2013 and there have been numerous by-elections, almost to suggest another general election over the five-year term. And none of the splinter groups of the MDC have participated for fear of losing those elections,” Chinamasa added.
Chinamasa has also dismissed opposition leaders as “false prophets” who were “peddling falsehoods about our electoral laws” but had no viable alternative policies to proffer.
“The problem is not the Constitution, the problem is not the electoral laws; the problem is that none of these parties have viable alternative policies to those pronounced by ZANU-PF,” Chinamasa said.
Chinamasa said electoral reforms agreed to during the government of national unity (GNU)had already been implemented in the areas of printing and distribution of ballot papers, manning of polling stations, vote counting, consolidation and announcement of results, voter registration, delimitation of constituencies, the composition and appointment of ZEC, and proportional as well as gender representation in parliament.
Another leading light in the ruling party, higher education minister and ZANU-PF politburo member, Jonathan Moyo, has also vowed that government will never enact new electoral reforms because doing so would be tantamount to handing over power to the opposition.
Addressing journalists at the Bulawayo Press Club a fortnight ago, Moyo rubbished calls for electoral reforms by opposition parties, saying reforms were concluded during the GNU, which ended after the 2013 general elections.
“They have been quiet for three years and suddenly they now want electoral reforms and give themselves a funny name, a parastatal name like NERA. Let us be clear, for a long time since 1999, the opposition was saying the most important reform that must happen in the country is a new constitution. The Electoral Act, as it is now, is a product of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) parties,” said Moyo.
Moyo reiterated that calls for electoral reforms were intended to push ZANU-PF out of power.
“Opposition parties are literally saying put in place electoral reforms that will ensure that you lose and we win. That will never happen anywhere in a modern constitutional democracy that a political party that has come into government on the back of negotiated electoral reforms to then come up with reforms intended to reform itself out of power,” he said.
The sharp-tongued political scientist said demands for electoral reforms were unreasonable and would not be implemented by the ZANU-PF government.
“The reforms they are talking about are a clear code to say, come up with laws that will ensure that you are out. That will not happen. That will not happen because it is inherently unreasonable,” he added.
Moyo also said the planned move by the opposition parties to hold nationwide demonstrations to push for electoral reforms will be a waste of time.
A grouping of 18 opposition political parties have united under the aegis of NERA to push the ZANU-PF government to implement far-reaching electoral reforms.
The parties, however, had their demonstrations to push for electoral reforms that had been planned for Harare last week banned.
Moyo said even if opposition parties continue boycotting elections in protest — the ruling party would not move an inch because the demands for reforms are “totally unacceptable”.
“The Electoral Act as it is right now is a product of GPA parties. But now they saying no we must start talking about electoral reforms. It is totally unacceptable and we should not be in doubt about that,” he said.
Moyo added that the latest demands by opposition parties are an act of cowardice as the move is meant to disadvantage the ruling party and favour their opponents.
“Those people who made the laws they must be the ones who know what the provisions of Section 2 of our Constitution say. Now they are coming out in their full colours as electoral cowards; they are now literally saying put in place electoral reforms that will ensure that you lose and we win and we are saying no,” he said.
The Tsholotsho North legislator said if the opposition parties were serious about electoral reforms they were supposed to put them in their electoral manifestos ahead of the 2018 elections.
“If they want those reforms over and above what has been done they must put them in their manifestos. They must say we are contesting elections, we want these reforms implemented so that when we win we will reform ourselves out of power,” he said.
Moyo, a political scientist, noted that opposition parties had to appreciate the Constitution, which was the supreme law of the country would address the issue of electoral reforms.
“The most important reform is the constitution, of which without it we have no elections, we understood that and is why we now have the Constitution. No law of the land, no conduct, custom, practice supersedes the Constitution. No cultural or political entity is above the Constitution as that is a nullity. They (opposition) should know what Section 2 of the Constitution says,” he said.
ZANU-PF political commissar and Local Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, has also declared that government will not pay attention to the opposition, indicating the ruling party has no plans to implement the electoral reforms.
Kasukuwere said both government and the ruling party would not be moved by anti-government protests.
“How can Didymus Mutasa and Joice Mujuru (Zimbabwe People First leaders), failed politicians, who were enjoying power just yesterday under these electoral laws, call for reforms now? They are doing so because they have no capacity to win elections,” Kasukuwere said.
Kasukuwere said the government would only listen to debates on electoral reforms if they came through Parliament and not “street protests”.
“You want us to listen to people wearing gowns and playing street soccer at Copacabana? That will not happen. If they want to change the government, they should come for elections,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has expressed concern at the utterances attributed to senior ZANU-PF and government officials insinuating that there will be no electoral reforms before the 2018 elections.
“The utterances come against a background of numerous calls by civil society organisations and 2013 regional observer groups for the full alignment of electoral laws to the Constitution as well as for the creation of an enabling political environment,” ZESN said.
The poll lobby group said pronouncements by officials in the ZANU-PF government regarding electoral reforms showed disrespect for recommendations made by African observer missions to the 2013 general elections.
However, it is clear from the statements made by leading ZANU-PF officials that the intransigent ruling party is determined to reject the opposition’s electoral reform agenda.
The ZANU-PF government’s body language, reflected in its decision to ban demonstrations, brutalise protesters and arrest opposition activists, indicates that the ruling party will not hesitate to employ crude methods, including violating the Constitution, to muzzle dissent and thwart the electoral reforms agenda.
It remains to be seen if the opposition parties operating under the aegis of NERA have the wherewhithal to escalate their protests and mount enough pressure to force an obstinate ZANU-PF government to implement the much-needed electoral reforms before general elections due in 2018.
What is certain, however, is that the outcome of any election held without comprehensive electoral reforms will be skewed in favour of the ruling party.