New election rules leave rigging risk, say experts

votingwomanHARARE - Electoral reforms recently agreed to by the three parties in the coalition government dont go far enough to stop vote-rigging or to ensure an uncontestable election outcome, experts have warned.

President Mugabes Zanu (PF) party, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirais MDC and Arthur Mutambaras breakaway MDC party have agreed on a series of electoral reforms, giving credence to suggestions that an election is imminent in 2011.

Among the reforms are changes to the handling of election results, including posting election results outside polling stations promptly and transmitting the results to command centres, and limiting postal voting to officers outside the country on state duty.

The parties also agreed to do away with the clearance certificate for candidates contesting the election from Zimbabwe Republic Police or local authorities a welcome removal of bureaucratic procedures, analysts say.

Voter education will now begin a week after the proclamation dissolving parliament and calling for elections. Previously this was done within 90 days.

But among all the reforms, the landmark agreement was on presidential election results. These will be announced no later than five days from the day after the last day of polling.

Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, director of independent election watchdog body Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) welcomed the early release of results, saying that timely release of results gives credibility and integrity to the ballot, as late release of results gives room to suspicion of tampering with the ballot and reduces transparency of the electoral process.

After the March 2008 vote that saw Mugabe defeated by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, election results were withheld for five weeks as authorities tinkered with the results to fix the presidential run-off election.

The Zimbabwean understands the parties agreed that if there were more than two candidates in a presidential race, there would be a run-off if no one candidate was able to gather votes greater than the totality of votes cast for their rivals.

In addition, parties agreed that in the proclamation where parliament is dissolved, there should also be an allowance made for a run-off and a date should be set for this eventuality, to avoid the uncertainty that shrouded the declaration of the June 27, 2008 run-off vote.

Significantly, parties agreed to remove the minister of foreign affairs powers of vetoing accreditation of foreign election observers a move that dramatically reduces the risk of picking regional and international observers to suit particular agenda.

However, Chipfunde-Vava noted that the composition of the new accreditation committee for observers didnt cut the risk of executive interference, as it was composed of representatives from the Office of the President and Cabinet, a representative nominated by the minister and a representative nominated by the minister of foreign affairs.

She slammed the executive monopoly given to President Mugabe to set dates for elections in which he was a player. She suggested that this role be assigned to the newly constituted Independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which would be guided by the constitution.

University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure said the reforms were not supposed to concentrate only on the administrative side, since it was also necessary to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections.

The environment must be free of violence, intimidation and fear and there should be favourable exchange of information, said Masunungure.

Mugabe has said he wants elections next year, a crucial date for Zimbabwean voters and the most significant election since the country was granted independence from Britain in 1980. Political analysts say Mugabe cannot survive an election.

There is, of course, no doubt that he will try to rig the result of the 2011 poll, as he did the last time presidential elections were held, back in 2008,” said a business analyst.

But even if he succeeds and he probably will – it will still not be enough. This is because something very significant has occurred over the past few 14 months Mugabes own supporters have turned against him and now back the PM, who has brought economic relief. These reforms will finish him off, as they install a tamper-proof electoral system.

Post published in: Opinions

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