2012: The year for credible electoral reforms

The message of the season to Zimbabwe’s political leaders, particularly to Zanu (PF) ahead of their December annual conference scheduled for December 6-10, is that 2012 is not a year for elections, but for fundamental electoral reforms. Recent elections in Zambia have shown us that it is indeed possible to hold free and fair elections leading to a peaceful and smooth transfer of power. We have what it takes to follow in Zambia’s footsteps, we just can’t rush into elections befo

At present the indicators are not good. There are widespread reports of escalating violence across the country, including in Harare where the notorious Mbare-based Zanu (PF) militia group, Chipangano, is wreaking havoc. The police are yet to show impartiality and professionalism by holding accountable all perpetrators of violence. The escalation in violence appears to be closely related to preparations for possible elections early next year. But we all know that Zimbabwe is not prepared to hold peaceful and democratic elections at the moment.

Work to be done

The widespread and senseless violence is a sure indicator that 2012 must not be an election year because we have neither the necessary reforms nor a conducive environment for genuinely free and fair elections.

Instead of rushing headlong into choice-less and violent elections, now is the time to look to the new constitution being drafted to ensure that it guarantees the independence and professionalism of key state institutions. There is need to ensure that the political leadership of those institutions behaves in accordance with democratic principles. The making of the new constitution must never be a rushed job, it needs careful attention and exhaustive consultations.

A lot of work remains to be done to make the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission truly independent and to ensure that its staff are not political appointees with partisan leanings. The independence and professionalism of ZEC and the Human Rights Commission must be constitutionally guaranteed and their funding must not be controlled by a minister with vested interests, but by Parliament, drawn from the constitutional Consolidated Revenue Fund.

While the rank and file within the security sector, in the police, the army and the intelligence fully embraces democracy and acts professionally, there is work to be done among certain political leaders in the security sector who cannot tell the difference between Zanu (PF) and the nation of Zimbabwe.

New practice

Next year gives Zimbabweans the necessary time to deal with these matters properly. Misguided political and partisan statements by serving military or police chiefs must become a thing of the past. New practice should be that if a serving security sector chief becomes politically involved, then he or she must be subjected to disciplinary measures in a way that deters others from stepping out of line. There must be career consequences for those who undermine the independence of the institutions they serve.

Presently there are no compelling reasons to insist on elections that we know will most likely be violent and will not deliver a legitimate government. Elections in 2012 will not be in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe and risk plunging the country into violence and chaos. The Global Political Agreement should be comprehensively implemented to create an environment conducive to the holding of free and fair elections under conditions of free political activity. Wrongly timed elections will not solve Zimbabwe’s political challenges. They will only serve to deepen the problem and cause unnecessary suffering.

GPA implementation

The full implementation of the GPA will undoubtedly assist Zimbabweans in their healing and begin to create a culture of peace, tolerance and non-violence. State institutions should also be activated to raise the cost of human rights abuses for perpetrators and to achieve justice for victims of abuse.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission must be aligned to the international standards of independence (Paris Principles) and be operationalized to work to create a culture of human rights respect in the country. A separate institution must be set up to deal with serious human rights abuses before February 2009. All these measures are essential confidence building measures that must be put in place before Zimbabweans are subjected to a fresh election.

We must never endorse an ill-prepared election that has no chance of being free and fair and that cannot conceivably deliver an acceptable outcome. To do so would be to further entrench polarization and prolong the suffering of the masses. There is no need to rush into half-backed processes which in the end will only perpetuate existing challenges. Where elections are concerned, we should tread with caution.

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