We need more than a new constitution

The high level of attention given to Zimbabwe’s crafting of a new constitution as a key step towards fresh elections calls for a word of caution. A new constitution will not solve all our governance and electoral challenges. There is a real danger that President Robert Mugabe and Zanu (PF) may demand elections on the basis of the new constitution but without implementing critical electoral reforms.


Yes, we need a new constitution. But to deliver democratic, non-violent, free and fair polls, much more needs to be done. The existing constitution is not, itself, a problem. Disregard for constitutional principles including respect for the rule of law and separation of powers are the major challenges. A new constitution will not necessarily resolve these. The subversion of state institutions by partisan individuals acting with impunity outside the constitutional framework is a deeper governance crisis that calls not only for legislative and institutional reforms, but also for top-level personnel changes in compromised institutions.

The MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai correctly stated, in their ‘Minimum Conditions for Free and Fair Elections’ released last week, that to deliver credible elections the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must be staffed by new, civilian employees recruited by the current Commission. Highly partisan employees working for ZEC, many of them military and state intelligence agents, cannot be expected to run a transparent and impartial election. The MDC must remain resolute and steadfast in their demand that no member of the CIO, the police or the army should be involved in the management of any election.

The voters’ roll must be cleaned up to remove ghost voters and ensure greater transparency under the direct and exclusive management of ZEC. To minimize chances of vote-rigging, there is need to address the challenge of extreme voter apathy and encourage citizens, particularly young people, to register to vote. The electoral law must make provision for all electoral stakeholders, including civic groups, to be allowed to conduct voter education.

The coalition government must move with haste to genuinely free the airwaves to bring on board truly independent radio and television broadcasters while transforming state-owned media into a public broadcaster that serves the interests of all – not one political party as is currently the case. The improperly constituted Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has sought to hoodwink people into believing that it is opening up the airwaves by granting two radio licenses to the state-owned media – Zimpapers and to a bunch of political activists aligned to Zanu (PF).

But perhaps the most critical outstanding reforms are around the prevention of state-sponsored violence. Without interim mechanisms to prevent the security forces from unduly influencing the electoral process through use of violence, intimidation or manipulation of the results, it would be pointless to go for fresh elections.

Comprehensive transformation of the security sector will undoubtedly take a considerable amount time, but for now, in the short–term, it is critical that the political leadership of the security forces publicly declare that they will respect democratic processes and not favour Zanu (PF).

The Southern African Development Community as guarantor of Zimbabwe’s coalition government, must be brought on board to provide a peace-keeping force to complement efforts of the police to deal with cases of political violence. The presence of the ground of an external, uniformed force, will go a long way in building public confidence that violence will be minimized and action taken against perpetrators of abuses. There should be a provision for long-term deployment of domestic and international election monitors and observers to all parts of the country.

What must be avoided is the elaborate trap woven around the flawed argument that once a new constitution is in place, Zimbabwe is ready for fresh elections that are transparent, free and fair.

Dewa Mavhinga, Regional Coordinator, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

Post published in: News

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