By Hazel Ndebele
Zimbabwe’s election watchdogs are concerned that the country could hold its harmonised election without the alignment of electoral laws to the current constitution after some pre-electoral processes commenced without crucial electoral amendments, compromising a free, fair and credible poll.
The country adopted a new constitution in May 2013 and a number of laws are yet to be aligned and this includes the Electoral Act which is crucial in deciding the outcome of the election.
Pre-electoral processes such as voter registration and voter education have commenced without the reforms.
In an interview with this paper this week, Electoral Resource Centre (ERC) director Tawanda Chimhini said the laws should be fully aligned if the country is to hold a credible election but expressed worry that the slow pace could mean the forthcoming election might be held without the vital reforms.
“We have already seen some pre-electoral processes being completed without the alignment of laws and yet we raised these issues a long time ago. For instance, the law is supposed to be aligned to give everyone the right to vote but the voter registration process will be closed soon without registering prisoners and people in the diaspora,” Chimhini said.
This comes as parliament has not taken action to address the electoral reforms petition submitted by the ERC on behalf of election stakeholders such as Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), other civil society players and ordinary citizens in September 2015.
The petition raised concerns on the processes, pace and substantive content of electoral legal reform being implemented since promulgation of the new constitution five years ago.
Chimhini said although parliament officials have since apologised for the slow pace of the alignment of laws and have promised to make progress on the issue, parliament was a culprit if ever the credibility of elections was going to be questioned.
“Last week we met with members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and, to our surprise, nothing concrete has been done since we handed our petition in 2015. It would be difficult to hold a free, fair and credible election if electoral laws are not being honoured.
If the credibility of the forthcoming election is going to be questioned, with all due respect to the speaker of parliament, parliament is going to be a culprit as they have not done anything substantive on the laws,” said Chimhini.
He added: “Questions should be raised on why unconstitutional provisions are being kept and the public deserves transparency and at this point it is not known if the delay is meant for political reasons or something else.”
The petition handed to parliament reads: “That your Petitioners being citizens of Zimbabwe are cognisant that the Parliament of Zimbabwe is mandated by the Constitution of Zimbabwe to, inter alia, protect the Constitution and promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe. That parliament or the speaker to ensure they take into account the role of the public and civil society in the legislative process relating to electoral reform, as specifically protected by the Constituti on Section 149 (i) and Section 141.”
That the petitioners are: “Concerned at the processes and pace and substantive content of electoral legal reform being implemented since promulgation of the new Constitution in May 2013; cognisant of the shortcomings in the country’s Electoral Legislative Framework and its misalignment with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and are alarmed by the administrative lethargy in government and the piecemeal approach to the review of the Electoral Law.”
The petitioners said the democratic overhaul of Zimbabwe’s electoral law would entail: ensuring the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, addressing the political environment, which is critical for the conduct of the 2018 election and to ensuring that the results are not subject to contestation.