By Njabulo Ncube
About a fortnight ago, Rita Makarau, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), revealed that her team had finalised the 2018 elections roadmap. In terms of the plan, her commission wants to produce a “perfect” voters’ roll between April and December.
In order to achieve that objective, a technical committee appointed by ZEC is currently evaluating 12 potential biometric voter-registration kit suppliers from Israel, Canada, Belgium and Zimbabwe, and will soon shortlist three of them.
The best performing three would be asked to demonstrate whether their equipment is user-friendly before selecting the winning bid.
The 12 companies submitted their bids following an invitation from ZEC in December, flighted in the local press.
Government and the United Nations Development Programme will jointly purchase the equipment at a cost of US$30 million, marking the first time Zimbabwe will use such technology.
It is hoped that the adoption of a new voter registration system would prevent voter duplication while ensuring that names of deceased persons do not appear on the roll.
The voters’ roll has for years been contentious, with opposition parties complaining that they have never been afforded the opportunity to see it before all the past elections were held.
Between April and December, the commission is therefore likely to be busy with voter-registration, demarcation of polling station maps and wrapping up major logistics.
Makaru also pointed out that ZEC was working with July 31, 2018 as the deadline by which elections must be held.
According to Section 158 of the Constitution, “A general election must be held so that polling takes place not more than (a) 30 days before the expiry of the five-year period. . .”
Zimbabwe holds its general election after every five years. The last elections were held on July 31, 2013. But stakeholders expressed mixed views this week over the roadmap, with many of them not so sure whether things would be any different this time around.
For instance, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) — the country’s largest opposition party — alleges that ZEC is still packed with State security agents it accuses of being aligned to the incumbent President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF, charges Makarau and her officials have been at pains to deny in the past.
Along with other actors in the civic society, the MDC-T has been demanding that ZEC be reconstituted to enable it to conduct free and fair polls.
They also want the State broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), to be turned into a truly public broadcaster. Currently, the parastatal is viewed as an appendage of ZANU-PF’s political campaign machinery.
For long, the opposition has been demanding equal and fair coverage from ZBC ahead of polls, alleging that the State broadcaster only televised live President Mugabe’s public addresses and rallies at the expense of other contestants. Opposition leaders are only broadcast on television and radio just to be cast in bad light, they claim.
While ZEC’s roadmap has been widely welcomed, analysts said the plan should have been shared with all stakeholders much earlier in the “spirit of transparent administration and to allow for independent and informed oversight of election processes”.
To this end, they are demanding for an inclusive election mechanism that involves stakeholders monitoring progress and assessing whether targets have been met.
“It is not only the voters’ roll that must be credible, but all election processes must reflect credibility in the eyes of all stakeholders including ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe,” said Tawanda Chimhini, the executive director of the Election Resource Centre.
According to Chimhini, for credibility of the electoral processes to be sustained, ZEC ought to be adequately funded and these resources should be availed on time.
Makarau is therefore being advised to move with speed to approach Treasury to avail adequate funding to ensure that next year’s polls are free and fair.
“In our view, with the roadmap in hand, ZEC must immediately engage Parliament to review the 2017 budget and ensure that the proposed work of ZEC for 2017 and 2018 is adequately budgeted for in the 2017 budget. Without budgeting for such work now, the 2018 elections will suffer the same fate as previous elections, including by-elections whose credibility was compromised on account of limited resources among other challenges,” said Chimhini.
Vivid Gwede, a political analyst who works for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, said in its current form, ZEC’s election road-map was inadequate as far as being an agent of delivering free and fair elections whose outcome would not be contested.
He said there was need for an inclusive mechanism of monitoring its implementation.
“The other issue is that the roadmap maintains dea fening silence on the issue of addressing electoral malpractices. In fact, it looks primarily on the technicalities of implementing bio-metric voter registration. But the electoral climate will matter much more given things such as political intimidation,” said Gwede.
Reason Wafawarova, a political analyst based in Australia with keen interest in local politics and has links with ZANU-PF, said faith in Zimbabwe’s electoral system would take much more than a press statement from Makaru.
“There are matters of a legislative nature that need to be seen to be done; there are administrative issues that need better implementation; and of course there are political matters that need to be approached with the maturity needed in the running of a democracy. We need mature and collective political will to accept that democracy means we can either win or lose elections and once we accept that we will not have politicians who declare victories before even the votes are cast,” said Wafawarova.
Stakeholders are adamant that ZEC should make it clear that without being availed the necessary resources on time the electoral body would not be in a position to properly conduct the elections because some electoral processes could be circumvented.
It is, however, not just resources that would deliver a free and fair election.
ZEC itself must commit to fair play, which means that it must operate independently. Financial Gazette