The myth of electoral processes: touted as such but treated differently
By Collen Chibango
The 2018 harmonised elections came, observers came and observed, reports were published, and that was the end of the story. Such is the typical nature of elections in Zimbabwe, pitted as a process but in the end, just events. The 2023 elections are due in 17 months, and indeed, activity has begun to hype over the upcoming event. The hype will increase, tension will pick up and climax will come, and again, the end. This article seeks to show the same, but with little hope that it awakens a soul or two who are election stakeholders towards action if an improved process is to be anticipated in 2023. The article aims to give a summary of priority recommendations by regional and international observer missions and check if any progress was made towards addressing the recommendations. In the end, it shows, without equivocation, that there is no tangible progress towards electoral reform.
A summary of some international observer missions findings and priority recommendations
SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) presented the following recommendations:
Legal Framework: The Mission urges the Government of Zimbabwe to consider expediting alignment of outstanding aspects of the Electoral Law to the new Constitution.
Voters roll: The Mission urges the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to endeavour to avail the voter’s roll, as and when required by stakeholders to allow enough time for inspection and verification.
Public Communication by ZEC: Given the concerns raised by certain stakeholders on the alleged partiality of the ZEC, the Mission calls on ZEC to consider adopting a pro-active communication strategy which engages stakeholders at every relevant stage of the electoral processes in order to build confidence and a sense of ownership amongst key stakeholders and the general public.
Postal voting: The Mission urges the ZEC to conduct sensitisation programs regarding postal voting particularly related to its modalities and management.
Diaspora Voting: The Mission advises that consideration should be given to permit voting by Zimbabweans in the diaspora.
Media: The Mission advises the ZEC and the Media Commission to ensure that the Constitution and Electoral Law are enforced with respect to the conduct of the media.
Women and gender balance: In line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe, and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development of 2008, the SEOM encourages all stakeholders to review the political and social environment, with a view to promoting women and gender balance in positions of political leadership.
Provisions for persons with disabilities: While the Mission commends ZEC for introducing mechanisms for voters with disabilities to access polling stations, the Government and ZEC are urged to continue to establish user-friendly polling stations to cater for people with disabilities, including the provision of braille ballot papers.
European Union (EU) priority recommendations:
1. ZECs independence needs to be strengthened, free from governmental oversight in the approval of its regulations.
2. ZEC must provide effective and timely information on all steps of the electoral preparations, making all information of public interest, including ZEC resolutions and verifiable polling station level results, immediately and easily accessible.
3. Voter registration needs to be enhanced in “under registered” districts of the country to ensure universal and equal suffrage.
4. Legal measures should be introduced to mitigate abuse of the advantage of incumbency and abuse of state resources.
5. State-owned media must abide by their legal obligation to be impartial and provide equitable treatment to all political parties and candidates.
6. The results management process needs to be more coherent and fully explained to all stakeholders well in advance of the polls in order to enhance transparency, verifiability and integrity of the results process.
7. The process of aligning the Electoral Act with the 2013 Constitution needs to be pursued and completed.
8. Develop regulation of political party financing to promote accountability and transparency and as a key step towards creating a level playing field between political parties.
9. Procedures for the security of the ballot from printing, deployment to polling stations and on Election Day should be reviewed and procedures clearly announced for future elections.
10. Multi-Party Liaison Committees should be a regular feature of inter-party dialogue throughout the entire electoral cycle, to be an effective conflict resolution tool for political parties and to provide an effective forum for reporting on non-compliance with the Code.
International Republican Institute-IRI/National Democratic Institute-NDI priority recommendations:
Legal Framework - Continue to align the Electoral Act with the 2013 Constitution.
Level the Playing Field - Create enforcement mechanisms for ensuring government resources do not serve partisan interests.
Introduce effective mechanisms to enforce the constitutional provision prohibiting traditional leaders from engaging in partisan activities.
Transparency - Adopt more transparent and consultative procedures to build public trust in the ZEC and ensure ZEC is widely perceived to be a credible institution.
Universal suffrage - Complete a constituency delimitation exercise not less than one year prior to the next election.
Foster a national debate regarding the issue of voting by Zimbabweans living outside the country.
Elections Management - Adopt and publicise transparent procedures for the tabulation, transmission, and announcement of results.
Media Environment - Foster a diverse, independent media environment representing a variety of political perspectives.
Complaints Mechanisms - Prosecute perpetrators of violence and other forms of political coercion.
Party Conduct - Create an environment for women to participate equally in the electoral process - free from intimidation and harassment.
Institutionalise Multi Party Liaison Committees (MPLCs) as forums for dialogue and dispute resolution among and between political parties and ZEC.
Common Wealth priority recommendations:
Electoral and legal framework - The legal framework for elections in Zimbabwe is largely sound. Recent legal reforms have improved it further. Nonetheless, a review of the electoral framework is required to address the critical gaps, as well as inconsistencies with the 2013 Constitution, and to strengthen it further for subsequent elections.
Management of the electoral process - We believe the legal framework provides the ZEC with the flexibility required to build trust in the electoral process. For subsequent elections, we hope the ZEC will take full advantage of this flexibility within the confines of the law. We further recommend a review of the legal framework to tighten the ZEC’s financial and operational independence.
Pre-election environment - The Group was encouraged by improvements in the pre-election environment, especially in relation to the respect for freedoms of association and speech during the campaign period. However, the blatant state media bias in favour of the governing party, persisting reports of intimidation and undue use of incumbency privileges unfairly unlevelled the playing field.
Election Day - The voting process, including the count at polling stations, was credible, peaceful and inclusive. With the aim of streamlining the exhausting and laborious counting process, an overall review of the procedures of the ZEC in the conduct of elections, especially on Election Day, should aim to reduce complications and align its prescriptions and practices with the constitutional stipulation in Section 156(a) that ‘whatever voting method is used, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent’.
Post-election environment - The post-election environment, within which the results process occurred, was, regrettably, marred by political violence and the heavy-handedness of security forces. The protracted release of results, in a manner that was less than transparent, fuelled tensions. These issues undermined citizens’ and observers’ trust and confidence in the electoral process.
African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) priority recommendations:
Legal framework - There is a need to align and harmonise the electoral laws to comply with the Constitution.
Political Environment - Continue to maintain the current open and free political environment, and all stakeholders must refrain from acts that may undermine the integrity of the electoral process or threaten the country’s peace and stability.
Women’s participation - Consider putting in place mechanisms to increase women’s participation in the electoral process, particularly as candidates.
Media - In light of the partisan and polarised nature of the media in Zimbabwe, consider full implementation of the Broadcasting Service Act and ensure equal access to the State Broadcaster to all contestants during elections.
Voters Register - ZEC should avail the final voters’ register to political parties, candidates and other relevant stakeholders within a reasonable time to allow for a comprehensive voter audit and verification, as well as facilitate effective participation in the process.
MPLCs - ZEC should foster dialogue and consultation with stakeholders to enhance confidence in the electoral process and put measures in place to efficiently operationalise the Multi-Party Liaison Committee meetings to improve communication with stakeholders.
Progress towards electoral reform
As 2023 approaches, what progress has been made in addressing some of the priority recommendations of 2018?
There remains a lot of work to be done to address the shortcomings of 2018. As it stands, any form of reform will be cosmetic given the time frame before the 2023 elections. However, the shortcomings remain important for resolving.
Collen Chibango is an elections, policy and development expert.