By Dr R. Matchaba-Hove
Published April 3rd 2005 in Kubatana.net
The Zimbabwe Parliamentary elections of March 2005 were held against the background of the flawed Parliamentary elections of June 2000 and the Presidential elections of March 2002. The elections were also held within the context of the SADC Principles for Democratic Elections of August 2004.
These principles state the importance of, inter alia: * Freedom of assembly and association * Freedom of expression * Political tolerance * Voter education * Equal access to the media and * Establishment of impartial, all inclusive, competent and accountable election management bodies staffed by qualified personnel.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) is a network of 35 human rights civic organizations. ZESN has membership structures in all provinces. Our principal objectives are four fold; * Voter education * Election observation * Media monitoring and information, and * Advocacy and electoral reforms research
In addition to presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in Zimbabwe, we have also observed elections in many other countries, in particular in the SADC region. ZESN was able to observe both the pre-election period and the election itself. Naturally, we continue to observe the immediate post election period.
ZESN also met several visiting observer missions. These included the SADC Election Observer Mission, the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC countries, the South African Observer Mission and the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa Observer Mission. Pre-election Period * Legal Framework * Voter registration * Delimitation Commission * Campaign period * Observers Legal Framework
In terms of the Constitution, the President is allowed to appoint 30 non- constituency members of parliament of which 10 of them would be traditional leaders elected by the Electoral College of Chiefs. It is recommended that this provision be repealed, as it gives unfair advantage to the sitting president (regardless of the party). Zimbabwe uses the ‘first past the post’ Westminster system. This system does not encourage the representation of smaller parties in parliament. For example, if at the end of polling, ZANU PF receives 60% of the vote and MDC 40%. If we were voting Proportional Representation, these would translate to 72 seats for ZANU PF and 48 for MDC.
We recommend a mixed proportional representation and constituency electoral system.
Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary elections are held every 5 years whilst Presidential elections are held every 6 years. ZESN is concerned that this may cause some challenges in the future. For instance where there is change in the party with the majority of seats in parliament and the President is from a minority it may become difficulty to govern the country.
It therefore recommends that Zimbabwe should consider having these two elections at the same time.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe establishes the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) and the Delimitation Commission which are mandated to supervise the conducting of elections and the demarcation of election boundaries respectively. The government also introduced the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act which established the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to run elections. In addition, the ZEC Act also requires local non-governmental organizations involved in voter education to get approval from ZEC or to be registered in terms of the existing law before carrying out any voter education. ZESN commends the introduction of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2: 13) which introduced the opening up of the electronic media for political parties to campaign, voting in one day, counting in situ, the use of translucent ballot boxes, introduction of the alphabetical voting system, the increase in the number of polling stations, the establishment of the Electoral Court, the use of visible ink and the abandonment of the mobile polling stations. ZESN commends these changes as they fall within the expected standards of conducting the electoral process as stipulated in the SADC Principles and Guidelines. We are however concerned with the lateness of the introduction of these reforms and the degree to which ZEC has had the opportunity to establish its independence and control over the electoral machinery. We look forward to the future strengthening of ZEC. Also of concern to ZESN is the impression that the Electoral Court is not independent. In the case of Roy Bennett, the Electoral Court ruled that Roy Bennett’s nomination papers had been illegally refused by the nomination court. The Electoral Court ruled that the Chimanimani constituency election be postponed to 30 April 2005 to allow for Bennett to participate in the election.
The day after this ruling, President Mugabe was quoted in the Herald newspaper describing the decision of the court as ’rank madness’. This undermines the independence of both the Electoral Court and ZEC. Voter registration and voters’ roll The office of the Registrar General was responsible for the updating of the voters’ roll and the registration of voters was not supervised by an independent electoral management body as required by the SADC Principles and Guidelines. This was due to the fact that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission came into existence on February 1, 2005 when registration was already in progress or close to being completed and was completed on February 4, 2005. This meant that there was little time to supervise the processes. The state of the voters’ roll was questionable as access to it was late and it is costly to purchase the roll. In addition ZEC did not supervise its compilation and its inspection and the shortcomings of the voters’ roll of having duplicate names. ZESN recommends the need for an overhaul of the voters roll which will also be accessible to everyone through the internet or other electronic means and should be linked with birth and death registries to ensure constant updating. Although the SADC Principles recommend that there must be no discrimination in voter registration, the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act (Chapter 4:01))stripped the fourth generation Zimbabweans of their nationality. There is thus a need for laws which allow those born in Zimbabwe the right to vote. Further, there are restrictive requirements for voter registration such as proof of residence, utility bills and in case of tenants, a letter from the property-owner confirming residence.
The issue of postal votes remains a major concern to Zimbabwe, taking into cognisance there are millions of people living in the Diaspora and were not allowed their democratic right to vote in this election. It was our hope that the same administrative systems in place for those who are in diplomatic Foreign Service and the uniformed forces on duty be extended to the ordinary citizenry for them to exercise their right to participate in governance issues while in the Diaspora. ZESN recommends that there be transparency in the manner in which the already existing postal voting system is administered to ensure accountability and transparency in that there should be local and international observers present when opening of the postal votes takes place and when the uniformed forces also vote. There should be details with respect to the number of application for postal voting made, the constituencies to which these relate to and this should be widened to include all Zimbabweans outside the country.
In the demarcation of constituencies, the general public should have an input in the process so that the constituencies will reflect community interests e.g Harare South. The report of the Delimitation Commission which came out in December 2004 was not well publicised as evidenced by the high numbers of people who were turned away at polling stations because they were in the wrong constituencies or lacked proper documentation. Official figures provided by ZEC indicate that the number of votes cast and those turned away by close of polling in six provinces totalled 130 000 or 10% of the voters. For instance, in Makoni East where ZANU PF won by 9 201 votes compared to the MDC’s 7 708, a total of 2 223 voters were turned away. In addition, in Mutasa South, ZANU PF got 9 715 and MDC got 9 380 votes, a total of 1460 voters were turned away. In both cases, the number of voters turned away was higher than the margin of victory. According to the SADC Principles and Guidelines, all citizens should be given the right to participate in the political process and an equal opportunity to vote.
There were cases of violence in the pre-election period before February 1, 2005 observed by ZESN long-term observers. The immediate campaign period was generally peaceful with minor incidents of intra-party and inter-party violence. There were reports of political gatherings which were disrupted, cancelled or banned though later on this improved. Laws which restrict fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens to freely assemble associate and express themselves such as Public Order and Security Act (POSA) (Chapter 11:17), the Access to Information and Protection Privacy Act (AIPPA) (Chapter 10:27) and the Miscellaneous Offences Act (1964) render the electoral environment hostile. It is our considered view that these laws are at variance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines which stress the need for member states to take measures that ensures that all citizens enjoy freedom of movement, association and expression and political tolerance. The public media, both print and electronic, were biased against the opposition political parties. Even though political parties and civic organisations were belatedly allowed to advertise in electronic media, this should have been extended to the print media. ZESN is concerned that opposition parties, which in the past polls were denied airtime to campaign, were granted late access to the public broadcaster. This anomaly was also compounded by the fact that there was unequal access to the airwaves and all access was heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party. The regulation should also have been extended to the print media especially where it concerns public print media. The post election should also see the opening up of the airwaves, and repealing of laws that create a monopoly for the state controlled broadcaster. ZESN welcomes regulations introduced to give access to media to contesting parties. With regards to the political parties funding, the government distributed funds to political parties which satisfied the set legal thresholds thereby fulfilling the provisions of the SADC Guidelines and Principles which state that funding of political parties must be transparent and based on agreed legal thresholds. However it does not nurture emerging new political parties and independent candidates. Observers Invitations to local and foreign observers were sent out by the Ministry of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The continued involvement of these Ministries has resulted in selective invitation and vetting of observers. There were 45 foreign state groups which were invited and over 8000 local observers. Although these invitations were sent out in February, the SADC Principles recommend that should be done at 90 days before the polls. Also of concern is the issue of the SADC PF and EISA, regional organisations which have vast experience in electoral observation but where not invited. ZESN managed to deploy, 260 long term observers who observed the pre-election period and 6 000 accredited observers nationwide for the polling period of which 240 observers were mobile and managed to cover most of the country. ZESN recommends the decentralisation of accreditation to provincial centres or even at constituency level
Polling period -- Polling Stations
There were 8 235 polling stations for March 2005 elections which were also publicised earlier than before. However there were concerns that some of the polling stations were situated in non-neutral locations such, chiefs’ homesteads such as Chipinge North, Chief Mapungwana and Chief homesteads, in Rushinga Chief Makuni(Mukazika village) Polling started on time (0700hrs) with minor problems. For instance, at 16 polling stations ZESN accredited observers were denied access at the opening of polls but this was later rectified whilst in Mudzi, ZEC electoral officials were also refused entry to the polling stations. There is need for appreciation of the role of observers and electoral officials. By the end of polling, ZESN observers reported that the voting process nationwide had progressed smoothly and speedily amid general peace and tranquillity. The speedy processing of voters could be attributed to the introduction of the alphabetical voting system, where there are three voting booths at individual polling stations, as well as the increase in the number of polling stations.
In terms of the Electoral Act, once counting has been completed and the results conveyed to the constituency centre, the presiding officer for that particular polling station should display the results outside the polling station for the public to see. This was not done in some places. We applaud counting of votes at polling stations to enhance transparency. Observers were also unnecessarily ‘detained’ at the polling stations when counting had been completed. We propose electoral authorities to look into it. Had ZEC provided observers with unfettered access to vote counts at polling stations, ZESN would have been in a position to help verify results and help resolve any election-related disputes. Failure to display results at some polling stations reduces transparency and accountability and undermines the value of counting ballots at polling station in accordance with the SADC Principles. In Goromonzi, which was won by ZANU PF, for example, the number of votes announced by ZEC at 2am, April 1, 2005 to have been cast by close of polling had suddenly gone up by 62% from 15 611 to 25 360 when the final results were announced on April 1, 2005. Another glaring example pertains to Manyame Constituency where, according to ZEC 14 812 had cast their ballots at the close of polling but the figure catapulted by 72% to 23 760 as the results were announced. In Highfield which was won by the MDC, the total number of ballots cast does not tally with the number of votes cast for the contesting candidates. ZESN, therefore, urges ZEC to seriously look into these discrepancies as a matter of extreme urgency as this has serious implications on the credibility of the electoral process. Conclusion We are already in the process of preparing our final detailed and comprehensive report. This will cover all the three periods of the electoral period: the pre-election period, the election and the counting days and the immediate post-election period. The emphasis will be on identifying areas for future and further improvement of our electoral process such as a single constitutional independent electoral management body, improvement of the role of civic society as monitors of the electoral process, the repealing of the requirement for civic society organisations to obtain permission from ZEC before conducting voter education, timeous access by all political parties to the electronic and print media, the repeal of restrictive legislation such POSA, AIPPA, and the Broadcasting Services Act (Chapter 12:06) as well as section 7 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act (1964). Flawed electoral processes are known cause of intra-state conflict. Hence significant reforms of the electoral process would go a long way in preventing, minimising and managing conflict. Zimbabwe’s electoral climate has been one shrouded in fear from the time of the 2000 parliamentary elections as these elections were accompanied with extensive physical violence and a number of fatalities were reported. This climate of fear continued during subsequent by-elections that were held. This was the background against which the 2002 presidential elections was held and subsequently Zimbabweans have come to associate elections with physical violence. The long term pre-electoral period was not accompanied by overt physical violence as compared to the two previous elections but incidents of intimidation were recorded as well as intra-party violence. Examples of intimidation include the politicisation of food distribution and the partisan role of some traditional leaders.
This leads to the conclusion that the pre-election period was not in compliance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines in particular that: * Opposition political parties were not free to campaign in certain parts of the country as some of these areas were no go areas for the opposition before February 2005. * Citizen participation was curtailed in that the rights to association and assembly was limited by POSA which was selectively applied by the police who deliberately misinterpreted the Act to say that opposition political parties required permission to hold meetings and rallies, which is not what the law says. The law simply states that the police should be notified and the police are not required to give permission. * AIPPA imposes severe penalties to journalists who publish false information but the same law does not define what amounts to false information. This affected the citizens’ rights to information in that journalists found it difficult to report on election-related issues or matters which could be interpreted as false. * There was no equal access to the media by political parties. The ruling party monopolised access to both the print and electronic media and limited access to the electronic media was granted to opposition political parties close to the actual polling day. * Although there were no incidences of overt violence, reports of intimidation and the politicisation of food distribution was used to persuade the citizens to vote for the ruling party. * The traditional leaders threatened their subjects with eviction and sometimes unspecified action should they fail to vote for the ruling party. * The changes that were introduced by the new electoral framework on February 1, 2005 were not adequately communicated to the general population. This could explain the high number of voters who were turned away from polling stations on polling day.
Notwithstanding the above, we note that polling day was generally calm and a peaceful environment prevailed. Citizens had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and were free to do so. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the various foreign observer missions that took time to consult us. We are of the view that their presence and actions helped to create the relatively peaceful climate in which the elections were held. We also trust that all stakeholders will take heed of the important recommendations made. Many thanks to all our observers and volunteers many of whom who worked tirelessly for over 24hrs. Finally, we commend Zimbabweans for the peaceful manner in which they conducted themselves during the elections.