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Unfair polls fuel legitimacy crisis

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A FRESH report by Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, a constitutional law academic and a legal advis[1]er at the International Commission of Jurists, complied together with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Musa Kika, has outlined how Zimbabwe can end the history of disputed elections.

BY BRENNA MATENDERE

The report recommends that the international community be mobil[1]ised to develop a mechanism for the transfer of power and warns that the country risks another military coup or revolution if it continues to mishandle general polls.

The report obtained by The NewsHawks this week is titled The Journal of Democracy, Governance and Human Rights in Zimbabwe.

The 15-page document was developed with support from the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU) of the University of Cape Town.

“The international community must be mobilised to develop a ‘ready-to-deploy’ mechanism and support framework to a support transfer of power (if and when results of the polls require such). This becomes the mechanism to mediate and deal with disputed election outcomes.

“This is an area that has received little focus on Zimbabwe on account of the country’s history which has a dearth of transitions. Questions in that mechanism should include security of the incoming and outgoing ad[1]ministrations, resourcing of the transition, mediation and guarantor mechanisms, period of transition and governance arrangement in transitional phase, transitional authority/council/committee/structure and its powers, among other considerations,” reads the report.

In its executive summary, the report acknowledges that past elections in Zimbabwe failed to pass the test of being free and fair to an extent of becoming a national question. The writers blame the Southern African Development Community for failing to act on the marred polls over decades. Part of the report reads: “The problem with elections in Zimbabwe is that electoral out[1]comes are not reflective of the will of the people and the system that manages elections conduces to manipulation of the people’s willingness, ability and capacity to vote.

“The ruling party Zanu PF is a classic case of a political leadership that uses elections as a device to merely legitimating their illiberal and often highly oppressive regime. Key concerns include (1) voter apathy and low participation; (2) perceptions of the electoral processes as being ineffective in manifesting voters’ wishes; (3) fear, naked power politics, violence, and impunity (e.g., the architecture of violence around elections); (4) militarisation and lack of citizen confidence on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec); and (5) the region’s continuous endorsement of fraudulent electoral processes.” The report also stresses that the resolution of electoral issues in Zimbabwe must take into account that it is a “multi-causal phenomenon, involving multiple challenges that cannot be solved by one solution.”

“Changing systems and processes is just one step in shifting a political culture of intolerance, violence, rigging and aversion to genuine and fair electoral contestation. Elections are a multifaceted and multi-stakeholder affair, involving not just the government and civil society, but also opposition parties and other organisations. “This situation in Zimbabwe is ongoing (and has been for decades), but it is important to maintain hope for change; to propose practical solutions for the short-term while at the same time working on medium- and long-term solutions.”

According to the report, reasons why Zimbabwe continues having disputed elections include: the failure by regional leaders to exert pressure in support of democracy; an elections management body (EMB) that lacks independence; fear; naked power politics; violence; impunity; trust ;and confidence deficits. The report says voter apathy is a problem in Zimbabwe’s elections.

“Voter apathy and low participation are one of the key problems with elections in Zimbabwe. The Afrobarometer Zimbabwe Round 9 Survey in 2021 found that nearly half (49.8%) of Zimbabweans would not vote and did not know (or would not say who) they would vote for. Mostly, this is argued, is because of the ‘fear factor’. But it is also due to the lack of political trust.

“It is also the case that many who are reticent hide their affiliation with the opposition. The same survey reports that even though Zimbabwe’s youth represent over 60% of the population, they are less likely than their elders to be registered to vote in 2023.

“The middle aged 36-55 years (83%) and the elderly 56+ years (72%) are more likely to be registered to vote than the young 18-35 years (54%). Focus on electoral reforms over the last de[1]cade has shifted attention from focusing on mobilising — there is a significant depoliticised constituency of eligible voters that does not vote. Zimbabwe’s youth represent over 60% of the population, they are less likely than their elders to be registered to vote in 2023.

“The middle aged 36-55 years (83%) and the elderly 56+ years (72%) are more likely to be registered to vote than the young 18-35 years (54%). Focus on electoral reforms over the last decade has shifted attention from focusing on mobilising — there is a significant depoliticised constituency of eligible voters that does not vote.”

As a solution to the problem of rigged elections, the report puts across the need for Sadc to be proactive in insisting free and fair polls in order to avoid an upheaval from disgruntled citizens. “Zimbabwe cannot continue to hold disputed elections. If this continues to happen, people will seek alternative ways to change government, and this will give rise to coups and possible revolution. This is a path to be avoided.

“A strong regional response to disputed elections is needed to protect the sanctity of the vote. The message for mobilisation would be: (1) to prevent a cycle of coups and possible revolution and (2) avoidance of destabilising the Sadc region. It is up to Zimbabweans to make a case for regional intervention. “Part of the intervention should include engagement with some of the major observer missions, as observer mission reports matter and determine credibility and processes that follow after the elections. It is important for observer missions to produce useful reports that help the cause for credible elections in the country,” reads another part of the report. – News Hawk Zimbabwe