THE Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has called on government to speed up the implementation of key institutional, constitutional and electoral reforms as a strategy of ensuring a credible, free and fair 2018 poll.
CiZC Spokesperson, Dumisani Nkomo told journalists in Bulawayo last week that failure by government to deliver key reforms on time would see forthcoming plebiscite becoming a mere farce whose outcome will be disputed.
Nkomo said the Coalition’s greatest fear was that unless key reforms are delivered, the 2018 elections will be a replica of the 2013 disputed election.
“We fear that unless these reforms are implemented, the elections will be a mere farce with the script and actor being the same as the 2013 one whose plot will be distinctly familiar and the outcomes being a dejavous moment,” he said.
CiZC urged government to speed up Biometric Voter Registration and other attendant processes such as birth registration and access to national Identity documents as strategies to ensure a credible election.
“BVR should be speeded up and the process should be spread out over a year to give people a chance to understand the process and to check whether the system works,” said Nkomo.
He emphasised the importance of partnerships between government and civil society organisations as a way of ensuring that citizens’ were aware of their electoral rights and responsibilities.
“Space must be opened for civil society organizations to carry out civic education on elections,” said Nkomo, adding that there must be widespread civic education by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and civil society to ensure that people have all the necessary information to participate in elections.
The organisation, representing a network of over 150 CSOs in Zimbabwe said local, regional and international observers must be accredited on time to monitor both the BVR process and the actual election process as enunciated in the tenets of the SADC Principles and Guidelines on the Conduct of Democratic Elections.
“The public media space should also be opened up to allow for a diversity of voices as the election period spans for over a year and not a few months,”said Nkomo.
The CiZC statement comes amid revelations that as barely 16 months before the forthcoming 2018 elections, there is no clear election roadmap.
While the organisation welcomed the introduction of the BVR system with all its challenges, the system can only work effectively if it is accompanied by a broader swathe of institutional reforms.
Gaps in the country’s electoral processes:
Lack of timely implementation of the Biometric Voter Registration: BVR was recommended by civil society after the contested 2005, 2008, 2013 elections as a credible method of minimizing election fraud. BVR will also ensure that a new voters roll is in place. However, if poorly implemented, BVR can be a monumental disaster and can result in political parties which have the advantage of incumbency e.g the ruling party, to use prior information to have all their members registered. Since BVR captures physical and behavioural features such as fingerprints, the face, iris, signatures etc, it can be used as a tool of intimidating people especially in rural areas to the effect that their voting patterns are being monitored. There must be sufficient time in educating and informing the voting public about BVR in order for it to be effective.
Accessibility of the “new” voters roll to come of the BVR process: Steps must be taken to ensure that the new voters roll produced after BVR is accessible to stakeholders and the voting public can check whether or not they are registered.
Independence of the electoral management body: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) secretariat must be demilitarized and every semblance of military or security/ intelligence presence in the ZEC secretariat must be flushed out as a matter of urgency in order to instil confidence in the electoral body.
Urgent need for media reforms: The public media must be depoliticized and all parties must be given equal access to electronic and print media both public and private. The state broadcaster for example must not, as it has become the public relations arm of the ruling party. Section 155 of the Constitution speaks clearly about the imperative of fair access to the media.
Use of food aid to buy votes by the ruling elite: Partisan distribution of food aid must be stopped as it is undemocratic and unconstitutional. Public figures must stop distributing inputs, tractors, rice, maize and clothing secured by government on behalf of the people on party lines.
Impartiality of traditional leaders and institutions: Traditional leaders must not be used as commissars for political parties as is still the case in many rural areas where traditional leaders are used to mobilize people for meetings of the ruling party. This is a clear violation of section 281 of the Constitution and the Traditional Leaders Act.
The military factor: Some senior members of the security establishment continue to embed themselves in partisan politics and openly siding with the ruling party. This increases the threshold of fear within the electorate as it reminds them of the political violence associated with the June presidential run-off election where the military allegedly played a major role in brutalising and intimidating citizens to vote for the ruling party. This is a violation of the Constitution.
Politicization of the civil service: Government officials and bureaucrats still being used as an extension of the ruling party.
Realignment of laws with the 2013 constitution: The slow pace of Constitutional alignment is a cause of concern.
Shrinking of civic space: Civil society organizations and ordinary citizens continue to be denied space to exercise freedom of assembly and association. Organizations are forced to notify the police about all meetings and those without memoranda of understanding are subjected to persecution.