Reforms must inform election timing

Coordinator’s Note 44

Dewa Mavhinga
Dewa Mavhinga

The next elections in Zimbabwe can only take place when the necessary conditions for free and fair elections have been established.

President Mugabe’s call for elections by March 2012 should therefore be dismissed on the basis that conditions for free and fair elections do not yet exist in Zimbabwe and there are no guarantees or mechanism to prevent the same electoral violence witnessed between April and June 2008 during the presidential run-off.

It is strange that people continue to call for elections when it is clear that

Zimbabwe is not ready. There is widespread state-sponsored violence, partisan application of the law, continued deployment of soldiers across the country and key state institutions that remain unreformed and extremely partisan and politicized. Talk of elections still evokes feelings of fear in the hearts of many.

Waste of resources

Perhaps it would make sense for the president to go for elections sooner rather than later for personal reasons, but the truth of the matter is that pushing for elections in the absence of credible reforms is a futile exercise and a waste of resources.

Chances are that the MDC formations led by Prime Minister Tsvangirai and professor Welshman Ncube will refuse to take part in elections. Without the participation of the MDC formations who command a significant following, the election will not produce a legitimate government.

Another factor that those calling for early elections must carefully consider is that SADC will have to certify that conditions are right to hold elections. SADC has categorically stated that Zimbabwe cannot have the next elections under the conditions present in 2008.

Instead of prematurely calling for elections, all political parties including

Zanu (PF) should focus on supporting the SADC-brokered elections roadmap

to implement meaningful reforms that inspire confidence in the people of Zimbabwe, and in SADC. Such reforms will obviously include a new constitution and critical electoral reforms such as an updated and accurate voters’ roll and guarantees for media freedom and gender equality. Also, all soldiers currently deployed across the country must be returned and confined to their barracks and all service chiefs must restrict their activities to their constitutional mandate.

More than new constitution

However, caution must be exercised when viewing the significance of a new constitution as the embodiment of electoral reforms. Put simply, a new constitution is likely to be negotiated among political parties before being taken to referendum and therefore, having a new constitution does not in any way mean that the environment is conducive for free and fair elections.

For instance, beyond a new constitution, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission

and its secretariat, charged with elections management, must be completely demilitarized, independent, professional and adequately resourced to impartially discharge its mandate. The inclusive government must end polarization and ensure that an election is not a contestation for power between the state and the people, but one between political parties with the state institutions remaining neutral.

Ahead of the next elections, political leaders must agree on the deployment by SADC and the African Union of peace-keeping monitors at least three months ahead of elections to prevent state-sponsored violence. The peace-keeping monitors should remain on the ground a further three months after elections have been held.

Politicians should desist from grandstanding about the date for elections and focus on delivering the preconditions for free and fair elections. Elections can be held anytime, as long as the necessary reforms have been undertaken to guarantee free political activity and to eliminate the terror and fear factor from the equation. – Dewa Mavhinga

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