ZESN chairman Tinoziva Bere on Question Time

Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairman, Tinoziva Bere, is the guest on Question Time. He joined SW Radio Africa journalists Lance Guma to discuss preparations for possible elections next year and some of the laws being put in place. Is Zimbabwe ready for a free and fair election? What needs to be put in place to achieve this? ZESN also observed elections in Zambia; what can Zimbabwe learn from them?

Tinoziva Bere
Tinoziva Bere

Interview broadcast 05 October 2011

Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me on Question Time The chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Tinoziva Bere, is the guest on the programme. He joins us to discuss preparations for possible elections next year and some of the laws being put in place.

And we know Zambia recently held its elections and chose a new president; we’ll also be getting his views on that particular election. Of course we asked SW Radio Africa listeners to send in their questions using Face Book, Twitter, Skype, email and text messages and the hope is that Mr Bere will answer some of your questions. Mr Bere thank you for joining us.

Tinoziva Bere: Thanks Lance and thank you for having me on the programme.

Guma: Okay now the Zimbabwe Election Support Network deployed a 15 member delegation to observe the tri-partite elections in Zambia; the team observed the pre-election and post-election phases of the presidential, parliamentary and local government election. Just as a starting point, how is it that the Zambians were able to pull this one off whilst in Zimbabwe, we generally struggle?

Bere: Well for as long as Zimbabwe has been independent, Zambia has been holding elections and you will remember the historic elections that were held by President Kenneth Kuanda and the fact that he established a practise then of leaving office after he had been defeated by Chiluba; that practise has been accepted and it has been respected and I think that is what we saw in place.

So Zambia has stronger traditions of observing or respecting views of the people and the choices of the people than in Zimbabwe. They struggled with one-party state but they overcame it and once they overcame it, you saw that Kaunda left office, after him, Chiluba left office, and so on and so on and Zimbabwe has had one ruler throughout that period so their traditions are stronger that ours.

Guma: So as far as comparing Zimbabwe and Zambia is concerned, Zimbabwe is still at the Kenneth Kuanda phase?

Bere: I would say that is where we are and there are many comparisons that you could make. The only thing that you found comparable to Zimbabwe was hate speech through the national media which was supporting the incumbent but other than that a lot of other things were different – there were more freedoms; civil society was allowed, the independent media was fairly strong and independent and you also found that the police and the army stayed out of politics, they did not make any slogans or declarations and on election day, they allowed people to vote freely and where there were instances of violence they responded impartially. So we do have differences that we can point to and lessons that we can learn from Zambia.

Guma: Okay now in June I think we had the Electoral Amendment Bill or the draft Electoral Amendment Bill being gazetted, ZESN has issued a preliminary statement on this Amendment Bill drawing on your own observations. In terms of addressing some of the problems that we’ve seen in past elections, do you see the proposed laws doing this?

Bere: They do so in parts and in other parts they create problems. Let me list the problems immediately – the provision that it provides for five year imprisonment and creates a crime for announcing anything that sounds like results is clearly not modern practise and it militates against scientific estimation of what the results are likely to be and so we are concerned about that but in other respects it tries to address the concerns that have been raised over a period of time. Whether it will succeed in terms of implementation is quite another thing.

Guma: Now from Mutare we have a question from Talent who says there has been a lot of discussion on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and his question is much has been made about the role of the Secretariat with allegations that oh it is packed with CIOs; so his question really is – having the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission itself, how different is this from the old Commission and can they guarantee a free and fair election?

Bere: I should say that something positive happened at the Electoral Commission and it was the appointment of a new Commission and a new chairperson. It is something which ZESN welcomed and over the few months that they have been in office we have advocated that they get as much support as they possibly can. We believe they should be given a chance but in respect if the Secretariat, there have been no changes and the concerns that have been expressed are legitimate and our hope has been that the Commission would reform the Secretariat and grow its capacity to impartially implement an election. So the concerns are understandable and ZESN also has similar concerns.

Guma: Is it a bit of a problematic area though when it’s meant to be an independent Electoral Commission, because I’ve seen Patrick Chinamasa the Justice Minister making this argument that if it is an independent body why meddle with the secretariat, it ceases to become independent. Is that a valid argument to make?

Bere: If there was no history it would be a valid argument but because there is history that argument is not valid. There is history of the Secretariat having been determined by only those who are in power at the time and there is also history of persons having come out of security forces to occupy positions within the Secretariat. And there’s also history that it’s the same Secretariat that failed us last time when they refused to announce results which they had, so the argument would not be valid.

Guma: On Twitter we have a question from Jonathan who says they are not very clear on whether Zimbabwe is going to have a completely new voters’ roll or the old one is just going to be purged and refined so basically I think they want to know are we having a completely new roll when all is said and done?

Bere: The new Section, which is Section 36A which is being introduced by Clause 9 of the proposed Bill, envisages the president on the advice of the Commission calling for a completely new registration of voters. Now there is a possibility but not a certainty, the Commission may not advise the president to do so and even on the advice, the president may not call for a new voters’ roll.

And going by the signs and attitudes of the man who controls the voters’ roll but is not controlled by the Commission, Mudede, it feels like he believes that the voters’ roll he is holding is a new one, I mean, is a clean one, and he is unlikely to agree to its replacement. But certainly the election will struggle if the voters’ roll which has been condemned is not re-registered.

Guma: Now there’s a word often used – biometric – we have one listener here who wants to understand what does that mean? Do we currently have a biometric voters’ roll or is this a suggestion for something completely different? Could you explain that in detail?

Bere: We don’t have a biometric voters’ roll in Zimbabwe; Zambia had that kind of voters’ roll. What it entails is various ways of capturing the biological features on a person; it might be capturing their eyes or capturing their fingerprints or capturing their image on the voters’ roll itself and on the voter identification and it is used to avoid fraud in terms of voting several times and so on and having an accurate voters’ roll and in Zambia it was used very effectively.

Guma: There has also been great debate on the issue of ward-based voting. I remember reading an article in the Zimbabwe Standard where, Zimbabwe Independent I think, where they were basically saying if the MDC agree to that, Zanu PF might as well be declared the winner of the election because they will be able to use their militants to sway the way people vote. What is your position regarding ward-based voting? Are there advantages and disadvantages?

Bere: ZESN supports the concept as a principle and as best practise that as has been used elsewhere but ZESN has also cautioned against the risk of abuse. If there’s no elimination of intimidation, threats and of violence, the kind we saw in June 2008, then ward-based voters’ roll can actually be used to undermine free choice.

Let me give you an illustration: in my home area, if there is a polling station and the voters’ roll is based on the ward, it will mean that it is me, my family and our neighbors who will be only be able to go to vote at our nearby school and when the streams are determined it will be clear which box has Bere family and which box has Mugayi family and which box has Katema family and it will then be easy to intimidate people by saying we know who you voted for, we will know what you did and we are going to evict you from this area or some such threats.

So because of the risk of intimidation it is felt that within a constituency it is better for people to choose where they go to vote than restrict them and therefore expose them to the risk of intimidation. But in terms of best practise and avoiding fraud it is the best way to do it; that’s the best practise. So maybe we should focus on dealing with the threats of violence and intimidation in order to minimize the disadvantages that this good practise or the ward-based voters’ roll has.

Guma: Now that takes us to the issue of political violence as you rightfully point out. A lot has been said about this and Zimbabweans have gone through a lot in previous elections. When one looks at the activities of a vigilante group like Chipangano in Mbare, it does not look promising that we will have another violence-free election, possibly next year?

Bere: Yah, in fact what has happened is they have perfected the methods. Instead of doing it at one time in a very visible way, in Harare, certain parts of Harare they have created a culture of fear and intimidation and compulsion for people to attend certain meetings and terrorism in the streets of Harare to avoid any freedom even to demonstrate against something that people don’t agree and it is said that the police has not stopped this creation and maintenance of a militia which is called Chipangano and the other one.

They know who are sponsoring those and they know who is behind them and they could arrest them and end it but it has not been stopped and unless that is addressed we will see more structures such as Chipangano created in other areas for purposes of the election and this time they won’t deploy a military person, they have already trained people.

It will just be these party members who are organized along Chipangano’s way, they will stop traffic, they will force meetings, they will do as they please and I think it is legitimate to demand security sector reform before elections are held in this country and the Chipangano is evidence of that.

Guma: From Chipinge is an email from Gerald who wants, I don’t know whether it’s clarity or just an answer on the issue of the Diaspora vote; why is it so complicated to have that included? Lots of people in South Africa, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, America who want to participate in national politics and want to vote – why is it so hard to put in a Diaspora vote within our electoral laws?

Bere: I think it is not that it is hard or impossible; I think it is that it is not, it has not been agreed. The parties have not agreed on doing it.

Guma: Diplomats in different parts of the world are allowed to vote, members of the army and police who are deployed in different parts of the world vote using postal voting.

Bere: That is true and so this is why I said it is not that it is impossible. I think it has challenges, it has demands on resources but there are no resources that can be spared to allow people a choice. The reason why it has not been done and is unlikely to be done soon is because the two political parties who have to, the two political formations who have to agree, have not agreed.

There’s one in the, one of the parties who are afraid of the Diaspora vote, who believe that it will weaken their position and therefore are opposed to it so until that is resolved it will continue to be an issue under discussion and a controversial issue but ZESN’s view is that every vote counts and every vote must be permitted and certainly the Diaspora vote is a material vote for this country, this is their country, they have a right to make a choice.

They have gone outside the country, not by choice but by circumstances; they are trying to earn a living because our country has been impoverished for reasons that everybody knows. So people are trying to earn a living, they should not be penalized for going out of the country to earn a living, they should be allowed to vote and the mechanism can be put in place and fraud-proofing that system is also possible but it is the people who rule us – until they agree that it happens, it will look like it will continue to be a debate.

Guma: Well finally let’s look at the relationship between the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the government; the last time I remember quite clearly government refusing to accredit you to observe the election and they threw all sorts of accusations at you. How would you describe the current relationship?

Bere: The relationship between ZESN and all institutions of government, we believe it is respectful and professional. There are a few individuals who may hold views that are different from that which the government holds but ZESN operates legally in the country, it has not been banned, it does not have to agree with everybody but we are apolitical and we have insisted that we continue to be apolitical and professional in the way we approach the issue of elections. We have good dialogue with the ZEC and we want that dialogue to continue.

Guma: So you do not foresee any problems next year when they refuse to recognize you?

Bere: Well we will deal with it when it happens but as of now we believe we are a grouping of Zimbabwean NGOs that are legitimately engaged in lobby and advocacy for better elections in this country and we believe we have the right to exist and that right has been respected so far by everybody who really matters and because of that, we are quite hopeful that we will observe elections unless the elections are not credible elections.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe that’s chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Mr Tinoziva Bere, joining us on this edition of Question Time. Mr Bere thank you so much for your time.

Bere: Thank you, thank you Lance

Post published in: Africa News

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