via Makarau bares soul on July 31 polls | The Financial Gazette by Maggie Mzumara 7 Nov 2013
THE electoral process which culminated in the July 31 harmonised polls, though generally peaceful, was tense, taut and fractured with mistrust, accusations and counter-accusations. Although it is the outcome of the polls which brought tensions to a boil, the whole electoral processes from voter education to voter registration, voting and vote counting on a number of accounts was not beyond reproach. At the centre of it all was one, a justice of the law, a lawyer, a woman and a professional, Rita Makarau (RM) the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), who went to lengths to try and keep the whole process together. Now that the election dust has settled, the Financial Gazette News Editor, Maggie Mzumara (MM), sought to pick the brains of Zimbabwe’s “iron lady of elections” and below is what came out of it.
MM: Justice Makarau now that the dust has settled on the harmonised elections 2013, what do you carry with you as the highlight of that process?
RM: What I carry with me as the highlight of the process was the peace that prevailed before, during and after the elections, given the violence that marred past elections. To a very large extent it is that peaceful environment that was also observed by many local and foreign observers and contributed to the elections being adjudged credible and free by the majority of observers. I also carry with me as a highlight the highly professional manner in which all commissioners and the entire staff of ZEC discharged their responsibilities.
MM: What specific challenges, if any, did you find daunting?
RM: There were many challenges in the process but the ones that I would single out were:
l The logistical challenges posed by the special vote by its very nature and by the fact that this was a new feature of our elections on which we had had no chance to rehearse before actual polling. We were thus test piloting the special vote in the actual elections.
l The late releases of funding by Treasury compromised our capacity to roll out some of our processes in good time as some service providers needed to be paid in advance. Procurement of some election material had to be done during the last few days before polling and this compromised on the quality of some of the goods although at the end of the day all election material was delivered to polling stations in time for the elections, and A tight timeframe within which to roll out all our electoral processes. This timeframe did not, upon its conception, adequately take into account the right of losing candidates to challenge the results of nomination courts. The numerous court challenges dragged on into the process and reduced the number of days within which we had to design the ballot papers for printing. For instance, for the special vote, we were still designing ballot papers, one-and-half-days before the commencement of polling.
MM: How did you manage to stay the course and soldier on amidst all that scrutiny and obviously some criticism?
RM: During elections, we knew that all our activities would be under the microscope. We tried our best to be professional, to keep an open door policy and to be transparent in all our processes. We believe we managed to pull through because we had the support of most Zimbabweans who were fair minded and were genuinely convinced that we were trying our level best in the circumstances. Where we were criticised, we believed that most of the criticism was deserved and we were the first ones at all times to own up to some of the challenges that we were encountering. We strove at all times to do the correct thing by diligent application of the law and earnest engagement of stakeholders throughout the election period. Knowing that we were doing our best in difficult circumstances helped us to stay the course.
MM: Any lessons learnt for you personally and also for ZEC and even perhaps for the nation at large?
RM: There are many lessons that can be picked up from the last elections. Chief amongst these is that processes such as a general election must be owned by all and be supported by all. Most stakeholders in Zimbabwe do not trust each other and so we still have a “them” and “us” attitude towards elections. We thus always believe that “them” are out to cheat. This lack of trust, unfortunately also affects the media which, during elections, must act effectively as the fourth estate that should ensure that all behave electorally correct by exposing, without fear or favour, all electoral errors not only by the election management body but also by any of the candidates. Sadly, the nation remained polarised and thus very partial towards one political interest or the other.
MM: For every task or mission to be carried out, there is always need for a conducive environment, what would have constituted an enabling environment for you?
RM: It would have helped us a whole lot if there was less polarisation amongst all the stakeholders and we were all working towards the common good of the country. We would have wanted the media to really come to our aid and police the candidates and all other stakeholders impartially and effectively.
MM: Is there anything you could have done differently?
RM: Yes, as usual, in hindsight, we would have done a whole lot of things differently. We would have wanted to be fully capacited to carry out the voter registration exercise that preceded the elections. We would have wanted to fully understand the processes involved in the special vote before actual polling commenced and we would have wanted to explain all our processes more clearly and intensely to the electorate to gain their trust and confidence that their vote cannot be tampered with and that the results we announce correctly reflect the way they would have voted.
MM: Do you look forward to the next elections with trepidation? Enthusiasm? Or what?
RM: We cannot wait for the next elections. We are more than ready to show the nation that we have learnt our lessons and that we have learnt these lessons very well. We believe that with the experience we have gained during the past elections, Zimbabwean elections will never be the same.