Zimbabwe’s new justice minister is rejecting calls for major electoral reforms ahead of nationwide polls expected later this year.
The Zimbabwe Election Resource Centre, a non-partisan think tank focusing on elections and democracy, wrote letters this week to parliament, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, urging them to enact new laws to ensure the 2018 general elections are free and fair.
Former president Robert Mugabe, who the military forced out of office in November, was accused by both international and domestic observers of using fraud and intimidation to win elections in 2002, 2008 and 2013.
ERC director Tawanda Chimhini said Mnangagwa’s government must take steps to ensure the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is independent and that prisoners and Zimbabweans living abroad are eligible to vote.
Thousands of Mugabe’s opponents were thrown in jail during his decades in power, and hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans left the country, mostly for South Africa, to escape political repression or Zimbabwe’s moribund economy.
The pressure is not just coming from the ERC. Twenty-two opposition parties, under the banner of the Zimbabwe National Electoral Reform Agenda, recently held protests and petitioned the government to institute reforms.
“A lot more still needs to be done in ensuring effective citizen participation in governance processes that lead to the selection of public officials,” Chimhini told VOA’s Studio 7 Zimbabwe program on Tuesday.
Ziyambi: No change needed
However, in an interview Tuesday, Justice Minister Ziyambi said the country’s laws need no reform.
“Everything that they are complaining about is clearly covered within our constitution and our laws,” Ziyambi told Studio 7. “Our constitution clearly stipulates that ZEC is an independent body not subject to the control of anyone.”
Ziyambi said the laws are compliant with the guidelines of the African Union and the Southern African regional bloc SADC.
“In so far as we are concerned,” he added, “we believe that we should not just waste resources doing cosmetic changes to the legislation that are already materially covered by the existing legislation.”
That legislation was passed by the ruling ZANU-PF party, which remains in power after the events of November which saw the military take over state institutions and force Mugabe to resign after 37 years.
Some Zimbabweans have expressed concern about the military’s influence as three of Mnangagwa’s cabinet members are former generals, including new Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, one of the central figures in Mugabe’s ouster.
Regarding the prisoner and diaspora issues, Ziyambi said the government is awaiting a court decision that is expected later this month.
“Once that determination has been given we then know the direction to proceed,” he said.
President Mnangagwa has promised that Zimbabwe would hold “free, fair and credible elections this year.” He said he would work hard to build a new democracy. – VOA