By Maxwell Sibanda
HARARE – As the 2018 elections draw closer, Daily News on Sunday Assistant Editor Maxwell Sibanda sat down with the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) — Andrew Makoni — to discuss various issues in the run up to the July 30, 2018 polls.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
Q. Are you going to observe the 2018 elections? If so where do you get your observers and what mechanisms are in place to ensure that they provide objective observations?
A: Zesn will be observing the 2018 elections. We have been observing elections since 2000. We have built a pool of experienced and well-trained observers over the years, who have provided us in the past with unbiased and unprejudiced reports of their observation. We continue to bring on board new observers who are specially trained and only deployed when we are satisfied that they will be able to observe the elections dispassionately. We will be deploying supervisors across the country to enhance the quality of our observation.
Q. Can you explain the nature of your relationship with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) in the discharge of your duties?
A: Zec is a key stakeholder and is very critical in our efforts in ensuring credible, free and fair elections. As you probably would know, it is the institution that has the constitutional mandate to administer electoral processes. Over the years through our advocacy initiatives we have been having fruitful engagements and interactions with the Commission pertaining to electoral reforms. We have complemented efforts in electoral processes in several ways including voter education. We continue to provide constructive criticism to ensure that election management in Zimbabwe improves and conforms to international standards.
Q. What were the implications if any of availing the provisional voters’ roll a day after the set deadline to the political parties after the sitting of the Nomination Court?
A: Despite assurances by the electoral Commission in their roadmap that they would make available the voters’ roll in time for the sitting of the nomination court, this did not happen. Firstly it is in violation of Section 155(2)(c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which states that Zec must ensure that all political parties and candidates must have access to all material and information necessary for them to participate effectively. Secondly the absence of the voters’ roll meant that prospective candidates submitted their papers without full assurance that they and their nominators were on the voters’ roll. Our position is that the law must be amended to provide a specific timeframe when the final voters’ roll can be availed to the political contestants before the sitting of the Nomination Court. The absence of voters’ roll affected other potential candidates whose nomination papers were found defective as some of the persons who nominated them were not on the voters’ roll.
Q. Recently, government signed a High Level Peace Pledge, what’s your take on that?
A: The Peace Pledge is a step in the right direction as it promotes peace, crucial to the holding of free, fair and credible elections given the background that past elections in Zimbabwe have been rocked with violence and intimidation. We hope contesting parties will adhere to the regulations espoused in the Peace Pledge. We commend the initiative by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) and call for mechanisms countrywide to enforce the pledge. The NPRC should also continue to collaborate with other stakeholderssuch as civic society organisations and other institutions supporting democracy namely the ZHRC and Zec in monitoring the political environment ahead of the election.
Q: What more needs to be done to ensure peace and tranquillity prevails during and after the 2018 harmonised elections?
A: First and foremost, the political parties must adhere to the Code of Conduct and commit to upholding the National Peace Pledge that they signed recently. Furthermore, there is need to strengthen Multi-Party Liaison Committees (MPLCs) from ward, district up to national level, the MPLCs are critical in the holding of peaceful elections as they serve as alternative dispute resolution mechanism among political contestants. There is need for multi-stakeholders to monitor the political
environment ahead of the harmonised elections which will in turn facilitate the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms by citizens. The creation of a conducive political environment is key, negative issues such as harassment of voters must be dealt with.
Q. Who is Zesn and what is your role in elections in general?
A: Zesn stands for the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, formed in 2000 to coordinate activities pertaining to elections. Currently, Zesn as a network consists of 36 non-governmental organizations. The major focus of the network is to promote democratic processes in general and free and fair elections in particular. It works around the electoral cycle which in the case of Zimbabwe is a five-year cycle. Accordingly, our work is organised into programmatic areas that include electoral education and capacity building basically aimed at educating citizens of their rights especially as they relate to elections and governance. There is also election observation where we observe electoral processes including registration, nomination, the political environment, and the elections, among others. Daily News.