Paving way for a democratic, free, fair and acceptable election in Zimbabwe

As the country gears itself for an election, fears of politically-motivated violence have never been greater. The situation is compounded by the compromised, heavily-politicised state institutions that would normally be gatekeepers in the ideal world.

The delicate political situation in Zimbabwe therefore needs to be handled with extra care in order to avoid the post 2008 General Elections’ scenario.

Over the past three years, limited progress has been made in achieving the reforms that were set out in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) particularly on the need for security sector reform, media and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) reforms therefore it is imperative that electoral stakeholders take all the necessary steps towards the creation of an environment which is conducive for the holding of a free and fair election as stipulated in the GPA.

Zimbabweans need an election whose outcome is respected and is reflective of the will of the electorate. This can be achieved if the Inclusive Government, the Election Management Bodies and the Media address crucial aspects of the election process as detailed below:

To the Inclusive Government:

Ratify the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and relevant regional instruments, and put into place mechanisms to monitor and enforce compliance with their principles.

Ensure that constitutional, legal and regulatory frameworks that reflect international best practices, to include continuous voter registration, are in place in a timely fashion. These frameworks should not be unilaterally modified.

Take steps to fully fund elections through budget allocations as a matter of urgency. Set up and promote a credible election management body with commissioners and members of the secretariat chosen on the basis of their integrity, professionalism and ability to act independently.

Release funding for the election management body early and respect the independence of this body.

Create an integrated and impartial electoral security coordinating mechanism, bringing together all security services and other national stakeholders such as representatives of political parties, civil society and media that play a role during electoral processes in order to facilitate coherent, professional and effective policing around elections.

Provide an enabling environment in which domestic election observation organizations and international observer groups can freely observe and comment on all aspects of the electoral process. Encourage free, responsible and robust media as a means of promoting democratic elections and good governance by:

Establishing regulatory frameworks that promote media pluralism and encourage responsible journalism, both in ownership and points of view respectively, and that sanction media that incite violence and conflict or the derailment of the democratic process.

Removing the application of criminal liability to election campaign and candidate coverage. Ensuring that all political parties have equal access to publicly financed media.

Put in place appropriate mechanisms for the expeditious, just and fair resolution of electoral disputes. Prosecute election-related offenses in a timely, just and fair manner. To Election Management Bodies:

Allocate appropriate time and resources to critical aspects of the electoral process such as election planning, budget planning, staff selection and capacity building, the voter registration process, the nomination process, data management, polling agent recruitment and training, voter and civic education and compliance mechanisms.

Develop capacity to facilitate citizen access to voter registration processes on a continuous basis. Conduct operations transparently.

Ensure fair treatment of all political contestants and citizens through regular outreach towards political parties, civil society, domestic observation organizations and international observers, media and security services.

Avail themselves to political parties and candidate agents, domestic election observers, media and international observers interested in observing the electoral process. Ensure that accurate information on the electoral process is regularly provided to the public on a timely basis.

Ensure the accessibility of the electoral process to marginalized groups, including people with disabilities, youth and women. Work with all other stakeholders to ensure peaceful and credible elections. Expeditiously and transparently count, tabulate and announce election results.

To Security Services:

Recognize that electoral security is part of the larger human security framework and, accordingly, ensure that priority during elections is placed on protecting civilians during elections. Maintain high standards of professionalism during all phases of the electoral process.

To the Media:

State-owned and/or state-controlled media must subscribe to and enforce codes of conduct prohibiting biased news or other coverage, and must guarantee accurate, fair and equitable coverage of electoral contestants.

State-owned and/or state-controlled media must provide equitable and free access for all electoral contestants across their distribution channels.

State-owned media should serve as public media and codes of conduct should be adopted to ensure that this public resource operates free of political bias and for the public interest in the electoral contest.

State-owned and state-controlled media must provide robust voter education to ensure citizens understand voter registration and polling day procedures.

The recent and growing phenomena of community-based radio, which often broadcasts in local languages and targets rural populations, should be fully integrated into national voter education and election monitoring initiatives.

Private media should adopt and enforce codes of conduct, ethical standards and professional guidelines requiring unbiased, accurate and equitable news coverage of political parties and electoral candidates.

Coverage of political parties or candidate activities that favour one political party or candidate over another must be clearly separated from news coverage and labelled as editorial opinion.

State-owned, state-controlled and private media must train journalists and media personnel within their establishments to cover elections accurately, effectively and professionally.

The media’s role in monitoring all aspects of the electoral process should be continuous and ongoing throughout the election cycle.

The ERC thus calls upon the Inclusive Government, the Election Management Bodies, the Media and other relevant electoral stakeholders to immediately act upon the above mentioned steps and usher the country towards an electoral process which is free, fair, credible and acceptable. The ERC also calls for these electoral stakeholders to demonstrate political will, professionalism and commitment towards free and fair elections.

Post published in: Africa News

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