By Shingirai Vambe
Zimbabwe – Legislators, analysts, electoral bodies, and civil society organizations have expressed concerns over the alleged proclamation of the election date by President Emmerson Mnangagwa before the completion of the Electoral Amendment Bill. They describe it as a constitutional gap that needs to be addressed, or else it could lead to a disaster.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe (POZ) is currently deliberating on the Bill, which is expected to provide guidelines for the upcoming election in August this year, aligning with the 2013 constitution. Section 157 (5) stipulates that no changes to electoral or other laws related to elections should be made after an election has been called.
After a lengthy debate that lasted past midnight, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) members and the ruling ZANU PF members of Parliament discussed proposals on the electoral law before the plebiscite. According to sources, the President cannot make such statements at a gathering or rally without officially gazetting the proclamation, rendering it merely a statement without legal validity.
CCC member Innocent Gonese stated in the Post On Sunday Newspaper that out of the 23 proposals put forward, only a few have been approved, with the ruling party resisting the majority of amendments. Some proposals have been postponed until May 30th, 2023.
One aspect the bill aims to address is the proclamation of the election date. From midnight on the day before polling, the President becomes a candidate rather than the president. Parliament aims to address the gaps that may result in a constitutional crisis, suggesting the establishment of a commission to govern the country between polling day and the assumption of office by the new President.
This amendment follows a tragic event that occurred after the 2018 election on August 1st, 2018, where unarmed civilians were shot dead in the streets of Harare without anyone taking responsibility or facing consequences.
Mbizo legislator Settlement Chikwinya warned that if the proclamation is made before the passage of this particular bill, the country will face another electoral crisis that could be avoided. Some legislators wish to address these provisions in the constitution, but they are being denied by members of the ruling party.
The diaspora vote has already been rejected, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has agreed that the fees for participation in the democratic process should not be excessive or prohibitive for aspiring candidates.
With time running out, Zimbabwe is in a critical situation. The President has limited time to comply with the law and make a proclamation as prescribed in the constitution. The country cannot go beyond August 26th without holding elections.
Legislators have placed blame on Finance Minister Prof Mthuli Ncube, stating that inadequate funding for Parliament has hindered their ability to perform their duties without haste and delays.
During the last debate on the electoral bill, which lasted past midnight, there were concerns that this was a deliberate attempt to frustrate the processes and limit opportunities for members to fully participate due to fatigue. The 9th Parliament had frequent breaks since 2020 due to COVID-19 and the lack of resources, such as fuel and accommodation, which prevented members from being present in the house.
Chikwinya referred to the 2013 Constitution, which prohibits the sitting President from performing any executive duties from polling day until the swearing-in. Therefore, a commission is needed to oversee the country’s affairs until the new President is inaugurated.
If a runoff election is necessary, who will be in charge of the country since the President’s term ends the night before polling day? This highlights the necessity of completing and passing the electoral amendment bill.
Some of the areas of concern that have been raised are relate to the extension of the notification period for candidate withdrawal from 7 to 21 days. This change has been described as a tactic used by the ruling party to intimidate and infiltrate the opposing party and its members and candidates.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an electoral body, has urged the government to implement electoral reforms in preparation for the 2023 harmonized elections. ZESN emphasizes the need for these reforms to align with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), which Zimbabwe ratified in 2022.
African governments adopted ACDEG to emphasize the importance of regular, free, and fair elections in establishing legitimate representative governments and facilitating democratic changes in leadership. ACDEG also aims to promote best practices in election management for political stability, good governance, and the active involvement of citizens in democratic and developmental processes.
ZESN reiterates that the implementation of electoral reforms, in line with the spirit of ACDEG, is crucial for enhancing and consolidating the quality of democracy, elections, and governance in Zimbabwe. Some of these reforms include creating an enabling electoral environment that ensures citizens can participate without fear, providing access to the Voter’s Roll, implementing the 50/50 mechanism as outlined in the Constitution, defining clear guidelines for Women and Youth Quotas, using tactile ballot papers to guarantee voting secrecy, involving young people in Provincial Councils, reviewing accreditation fees, allowing long-term observation by domestic observers, implementing measures to address violence affecting women’s participation in politics and elections, and establishing an Integrity and Ethics Committee to address misconduct by Traditional Leaders during elections.
One amendment that still needs attention is that of assisted voting or voters. This issue generated negative perceptions during the by-elections period, as a large number of individuals were recorded as assisted voters, regardless of their literacy or physical abilities. This raised concerns of election rigging.