Constitutional Principles for Elections

Elections – presidential, parliamentary, provincial and local – in Zimbabwe have to be conducted in compliance with the Constitution which lays down basic principles for free and fair elections. This Election Watch will examine these principles.

Subsequent bulletins will analyse how far the Electoral Act complies with the Constitution.

Fundamental  Electoral Principles

Section 155(1) of the Constitution lays down basic electoral principles.  Elections must:

  • be peaceful, free and fair
  • be conducted by secret ballot [i.e. it must not be possible to find out how individual voters cast their votes]
  • be based on universal adult suffrage and equality of votes [which means that every adult Zimbabwean citizen is entitled to vote, no citizen’s vote should count for more than any other citizen’s vote, and no one should be allowed two or more votes in the same election]
  • be free from violence and other malpractices.

Further Basic Principles

Further principles emerge from section 155(2) of the Constitution:

  • All adult citizens must be given an opportunity to register as voters.  Residential requirements for registration can be laid down, but only to “ensure that voters are registered on the most appropriate voters roll”, not to deny voters the right to vote [para 1(2) of the 4th Schedule to the Constitution].
  • All eligible voters must be given an opportunity to cast their votes, and the government must facilitate voting by persons with disabilities or special needs.
  • Political parties and candidates must have reasonable access to all material and information they need to participate effectively in an election, and must be given fair and equal access to the media, whether public or private.
  • There must be timely resolution of electoral disputes [i.e. they must be resolved reasonably quickly and election petitions cannot be allowed to go unheard from one election to the next, as has happened in the past].

Yet more principles are laid down in section 67 of the Constitution.  All citizens have the following rights:

  • to form and join political parties
  • to campaign freely and peacefully for their political parties
  • to gather peacefully to influence, challenge or support political causes [so peaceful demonstrations must be allowed].

Requirements for the Electoral System

Under section 156 of the Constitution:

  • Voting methods must be simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent [“transparent” in the context of secret balloting presumably means that it must be possible to see who has cast their vote, though not how they have done so].
  • Election results must be announced as soon as possible after voting has ended.
  • Electoral materials – voting papers, ballot boxes and so on – must be kept safe from tampering.

Requirements for the Electoral Act

Finally, section 157 of the Constitution states that the Electoral Law [i.e. the Electoral Act] must make provision for the following:

  • The periodic delimitation [i.e. boundary fixing] of constituencies and wards in accordance with section 161 of the Constitution [We shall deal later with how and when delimitation must be done]
  • The registration of voters and the requirements for registration. [In this respect the Act must comply with the requirements we mentioned earlier:  all adult citizens must have an opportunity to register, and residential requirements must not be such as to exclude citizens from the franchise]
  • A code of conduct for political parties, candidates and other participants in elections
  • A proportional representation system for the election of Senators and the 60 women members of the National Assembly.  The system must allow vacancies in their seats to be filled by persons of the same gender and belonging to the same political party as their predecessors
  • The nomination of candidates for election, which must take place at least 14 days after the election was called
  • Polling [i.e. the casting of votes in an election], which must take place at least 30 days after the nomination of candidates
  • The election of the two senators representing persons with disabilities
  • Elections to provincial and metropolitan councils and to local authorities
  • Challenges to election results which, as indicated earlier, must be resolved reasonably quickly.

To be Continued

In the next and subsequent Election Watches we shall examine the Electoral Act to see to what extent it complies with these principles.  But we should end with a word of caution.  The way in which elections are conducted depends on the people involved:  the Zimbabwe Election commissioners and their electoral officials, election observers, candidates, political parties and their supporters.  If they condone or engage in violence, rigging or other misconduct the elections will be marred however good the constitutional principles and an Electoral Act may be.

Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied.

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