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Zimbabwe Democracy Institute statement on Hurungwe West by-election

The conduct of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in the conduct of the Hurungwe West by-election on 10 June 2015, points to the dublicty and complicity of the electoral management body and Zanu PF in the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe.

Dr Pedzisai Ruhanya is the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI)
Dr Pedzisai Ruhanya is the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI)

The inconsistencies and controversies mainly on ZEC’s explanation of how Zanu PF’s candidate Mr Guzhah is a microcosm of a bigger and deeper credibility and lack of transparency associated with ZEC’s management of elections in Zimbabwe. The inconsistencies that marred the by-election suggest that elections in Zimbabwe could be devoid of any meaning and reduced to mere contests whose outcome is predetermined.

Through its own public admission as captured in the NewsDay of Monday 22 June 2015, ZEC has confirmed that Mr Kieth Guzhah, the “winning” candidate was and is not a registered voter in Hurungwe West where independent candidate Temba Mliswa “lost” the election. This controversy exposes ZEC’s inability to administer credible elections.

The administrative manner under which ZEC conducted the Hurungwe West by-election exposes the extent of electoral manipulation in Zimbabwe where the electoral management body tasked with administering an election cannot not follow the law.

The Electoral Act explicitly states that an election candidate should be a registered voter in the constituency they wish to contest. This simply means the candidate must be on the voters’ roll. Thus, the nomination of Mr Guzhah in the first place should have been declared illegal at the close of the Nomination Court.

We draw the public’s attention to the long standing impartiality of the ZEC secretariat which has been staffed by former members of the executive arm of the state mainly from the Office of the President and Cabinet which houses the spy agency Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

For instance, the recently appointed Chief Elections Officer of ZEC, Mrs Constance Chigwamba, has been a long serving member of the executive whose last appointment was Permanent Secretary in the Office of President and Cabinet.

In 2009, Mrs Chigwamba was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Public Service, and in 2012 she was transferred to the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture. When the Ministry was split in September 2013, she became Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

In September 2014 she was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet. Mrs Chigwamba was a member of the Elections Directorate when she served as Secretary of the Public Service Commission. The Elections Directorate was a controversial Government committee charged with mobilising Government resources and personnel to assist those directly responsible for the conduct of elections.

Her predecessor, the late Lovemore Sekeramayi also served in the Office of the President and Cabinet before he was appointed Chief Elections Officer. The independence of ZEC is questionable given the appointment of such high ranking former government officials, in a country where there is clear conflation between the party and the state.

It is our view as ZDI that the impartiality of an electoral management body in conducting a free, fair, transparent and credible election, which is the epicentre of any democratic society, cannot be overemphasized. We argue so because elections are the barometer for defining democracy.

However, the manner in which ZEC conducted the Hurungwe by-election reduces Zimbabwe into a competitive electoral authoritarian regime where elections are a means by which the regime tries to reproduce itself. Under this scenario, the electoral context, environment and administration are crafted to deliver a pre-determined outcome of regime retention and continuity.

The functioning of the ZEC must not be subjected to the direction of any individual, authority or political party. ZEC must function without political preferentialism or prejudice.

Any allegations of manipulation, perception of partiality or alleged intrusion, particularly by political parties, has a direct bearing not only on the credibility of the body in charge but most importantly on the entirety of the election process.

The conduct of ZEC in the Hurungwe by- election casts aspersions in its relationship with the ruling Zanu PF party and its general conduct of elections as a supposed independent body.

Scholars of democracy argue that democratic elections are the sole legitimate basis for authority for a representative government and cites. Therefore the holding of regular free, fair and credible elections is an important tool for conflict prevention, conflict management and conflict resolution.

The challenge with Zimbabwe and its dominant party system impacts on elections in that it has led to; exclusive control of the legislative process; watertight party structure interspersed with all social, economic and political structures and processes in the country; a partisan army; full control of media; control of youth organizations; party intrusion into national economic enterprises; lack of a clear-cut distinction between institutions, processes and properties of the state from those of the party.

African countries must turn elections into a developmental asset that would add its weight to the much awaited and much- needed convergence of Africa’s two decisive resource bases.

In some respects, ZEC’s conduct of elections as exhibited in the Hurungwe by-election is a symptomatic of this undesirable situation which it must exorcise itself from.

ZEC’s conduct of the Hurungwe by-election confirms allegations that African elections are window-dressing rituals with no real political meaning other than the stuffing of the ballot boxes behind closed doors.

Elections are now just administrative formalities which have become standard signs of good conduct adopted by African governments to Western states and international institutions on which they are financially and politically dependent.

Scholars of electoral studies such as Pastor point out that whether ‘an election is a source of peaceful change or a cause of serious instability’ mainly depends on the character, competence and composition of a number of institutions.

All things considered, the most important institution is the electoral commission, which is the permanently functioning institution charged with the task of preparing and conducting elections.

Institutions such as the electoral commission ought to be ‘independent, competent and perceived as completely fair by all the candidates and parties participating in the [electoral] process.’

Furthermore, the electoral commission’s standing will depend on its ability, including resources and real legal prerogative, to impartially handle election-related complaints and effectively redress irregularities, thus effectively facilitating the resolution of a Kenya-like electoral dispute which can easily speed out of control.

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