Launch of the Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill

On Thursday 24 September 2020, ZESN hosted a Virtual Meeting on the ZOOM platform to launch the Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill at 10am. The virtual launch was attended by a total of about 140 people attended the meeting; including Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, ZESN Members, other Civil Society Organisations, Community Based Organisations, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Commissioners, representatives from other Chapter 12 Commissions, political parties representatives, ZESN partners, electoral experts from the region and members of the public.

The meeting started off with the Facilitator giving background information on the ZESN Bill. In 2018, ZESN lodged a petition at the Parliament of Zimbabwe on a number of electoral issues that it sought addressed in order to pave the way for credible future polls in Zimbabwe. The petition was referred by Parliament to the Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. The Committee in due course invited ZESN to appear before it and speak to the petition.

ZESN later facilitated a workshop in Kariba in June 2019, for the Justice Committee at which experts would speak on the issues contained in the petition. This was followed up by an All Stakeholders meeting in July 2019 organised by Parliament and SAPST, held in Kadoma to provide an opportunity to more stakeholders to deliberate on the Petition. This meeting included the Portfolio Committee on Justice, and several election-related public institutions attended. These included the Speaker of Parliament, the Portfolio Committee for Justice and Legal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, and the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Several civil society organisations also partook in this meeting.

One of the resolutions of the all-stakeholder conference was that ZESN was requested to coordinate the CSOs in crafting and submitting to Parliament a draft Electoral Amendment Bill in order to expedite the process. Pursuant to the request by Parliament, ZESN worked on drafting the Bill and in doing so, it consulted stakeholders widely particularly CSOs, its network and beyond. The Facilitator concluded by saying that it is the product of these consultations that is now being launched and presented to the Parliament.

In his opening remarks, ZESN Chairperson, Mr. Andrew Makoni acknowledged the importance of the Amendment Bill and noted that, there is no other topic as timely as the one on electoral reform. He expressed gratitude to all stakeholders who had made time to come together and discuss electoral reforms which are pertinent in improving electoral processes in Zimbabwe. He explained that the Launch is being held against a backdrop of various preceding processes where ZESN engaged with Parliament over key legislative and administrative issues that we propose to be implemented before the next elections. He also said that he hoped that the launch will be a step further in implementing the much needed electoral reforms.

The Acting Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Dr Joshua Murire highlighted that the Committee received a petition from ZESN. The Committee then undertook Public Consultation as required by the Constitution. At the Kadoma All Stakeholders workshop, it was resolved to have a “Model Law” prepared by ZESN. He also informed the meeting that the Committee will continue to engage the Minister of Justice on the Bill, until the debate on the Bill is concluded.

Mr Makoni presented highlights of the Draft Electoral Amendment Bill. He noted some of the key provisions being introduced by the Bill on the following areas; the further advancement of the Independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the participation and representation of special groups in elections, voter registration and the voters roll, voter education, external and special voting, Election Roadmap, Election postponement, Election Observation, Election Dispute Resolution, Electoral malpractices, the Electoral Court and Election Petitions and the Media and Elections.

After the Chairperson’s presentation, the Bill was handed over to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Mr Makoni noted that ZESN awaits feedback on future processes on the Bill from Parliament.

In response, Hon. Dr Murire thanked ZESN for the submission and all those who participated in the drafting of the Bill. He observed that this Bill will contribute to shaping a well-managed election process and a well governed Zimbabwe.

During the plenary session, a number of participants commented on the Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill and the drafting process. Most participants commended ZESN for coming up with such well put out, pertinent, useful, seamless and comprehensive recommendations. Some testified to the fact that the process of coming up with the Bill was very inclusive, with stakeholders being consulted at every stage, beginning with the Petition.

Some of the provisions singled out as being particularly relevant include those on the inclusive participation of people with disability, the participation and representation of women, postal and external voting and the need for an independent monitoring and regulatory body for the media. Participants correspondingly hailed ZESN for working closely with the Parliament on electoral reform issues, as they are the major body responsible for law making in the country. ZESN was also urged to keep pushing for electoral reform timeously and not wait for the last minute towards Election Day. Participants expressed the need for political will and effort in order to expedite the process of electoral reform.

The launch managed to bring together relevant stakeholders on a discussion of key highlights of the Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill and to witness its virtual Launch and Handover to Parliament. The launch reached over 2000 people on the ZESN Facebook and other pages that were cross streaming including the Parliament of Zimbabwe Facebook page.

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