Zvamaida Murwir Senior Reporter
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has started warming up for the 2023 harmonised elections by convening a national multi-stakeholder conference aimed at reflecting at the July 30, 2018 general polls with a view to draw lessons on how to improve the coming plebiscite.
Recently, the election management body invited stakeholders from within the country, the Sadc region and others from Nigeria to brainstorm on how to conduct a flawless 2023 harmonised elections.
It was a no-holds barred meeting, with virtually every person or organisation with a say in elections being taken on board in order to tap wisdom from their experience.
Notable entities who were present were political parties, civic society organisations, women organisations, law enforcement agencies, legal experts, representatives of disabled persons, political scientists, media representatives and traditional leaders among others.
Topical issues that came up for discussion were lessons from bio-metric registration, voter education, vote counting, tabulation and transmission and election legal framework.
Others were reflections on the regional, continental and international standards for democratic elections, election dispute resolution mechanisms and role of the media as well as that of traditional leaders among other several issues.
The thrust of the conference was to reflect on the just-ended elections, focusing on what went right and what was it that went wrong before proffering suggestions for improvement.
Some of the political parties that attended the indaba were Zanu-PF and MDC-T led by Dr Thokozani Khupe, with the MDC-Alliance conspicuous by its absence despite the fact that its secretary-general Mr Douglas Mwonzora was earmarked to deliver a speech.
One of the major issues concerning political parties that came up was the need to register them during elections, with that contribution coming from Sadc Parliamentary Forum representative Mr Sheunesu Kurasha.
The need to enhance internal party democracy also took centre stage, with Zanu-PF Secretary for Legal Affairs Cde Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana calling for external independent bodies to superintend primary elections to enhance democracy.
“I think it is an issue we will discuss during national inter-partry dialogue.
“A lot of undemocratic processes are taking place within political parties and we do not talk about it. In other countries, they allow the national electoral body to manage internal party process. I am speaking as an individual.
“I believe personally that let us also subject our internal party processes to scrutiny by independent bodies,” said Cde Mangwana
People representing visually impaired persons said they were averse to assisted voting, saying it undermined their right to secrecy of the vote.
They proposed that there be use of braille ballot papers to accommodate them.
But ZEC commissioner Mrs Sibongile Ndlovu called for further interrogation to the braille proposal, saying it had the possible effect of undermining other rights.
“ZEC is very much concerned about the secrecy of the vote. From the suggestions, it has side effects. Imagine in a constituency where you have one blind person and we have this ballot paper in braille. Are we not going to have these people afraid to come forth because they would be saying people would know who I would have voted for. So that is one crucial matter we have to consider.
“I think moving forward, we should come together and modify these suggestions in order to maintain the secrecy of the voter,” said Mrs Ndlovu.
ZEC chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba assured participants that the election management body would treat contributions from the conference with the seriousness it deserved.
She said producing a free, fair and credible election was not the sole responsibility of ZEC alone.
“We are all accountable for the credibility of the electoral process. So the lessons that will emerge from this process will assist not only ZEC as the election administrators, but all election stakeholders in contributing towards the attainment of credible and acceptable electoral processes,” said Justice Chigumba.
Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner Erasmus Makodza said most offences that took place in the previous elections were mainly intra-party violence from major political players Zanu-PF and MDC-Alliance.
On bio-metric registration, it was noted that despite some few challenges, ZEC had acquitted itself well in registering voters using the new system.
A voter registration expert from Zambia Mr Fredrick Lemisa and Zimbabwe Election Support Network representative Ms Ellen Dingane commended ZEC for their use of the BVR.
“A lot of things in the BVR worked well. It was a confidence booster. It passed several tests. The use of SMS (short messages services) was highly commendable,” said Ms Dingane.
Mr Lemisa implored ZEC to procure BVR kits on time so that there be adequate lead time for aggrieved parties to challenge the process without disrupting the election calendar.
A media representative Blessed Mhlanga implored ZEC to have a responsive public relations directorate that disposes inquiries from the media on time.
Given the conference in Nyanga, Zimbabwe is set to revolutionise its electoral system by moving a gear up given the enthusiasm demonstrated by participants.
The next election to be held in 2023 might appear to be far, but ZEC have set the tone for credible election through conducting preparatory work when it engaged stakeholders.