News and Information

SADC Tightens Screws On Zim
July 15, 2004

Financial Gazette (Harare)

July 15, 2004
Posted to the web July 15, 2004

Njabulo Ncube

PRESSURE is inexorably rising on the increasingly ostracised Zimbabwe government to overhaul the country's electoral process in line with regional norms and standards, following the drafting of a revised set of regulations by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to be considered at next month's summit to be held in Mauritius.

The revised principles and guidelines governing democratic elections among SADC's 14 member states is seen as specifically designed to force Zimbabwe to adhere to regional norms and standards when conducting elections, which have been tainted by procedural and legal irregularities.

The new guidelines come in the wake of a chorus of angry voices from the opposition and civic groups accusing President Robert Mugabe's government of taking advantage of flawed electoral procedures to rig successive parliamentary and presidential elections.

It has been charged that the most powerful weapon that the government, which has been using the power of incumbency, has is deceit. Independent observers in the last presidential election claim that the voters' roll had in excess of 800 000 dead people registered as voters while 700 000 were not known at the addresses under which they were registered.

The new principles and guidelines, to be tabled at the heads of state and government summit in Mauritius, come against the back cloth of largely sterile diplomatic manoeuvres by South African President Thabo Mbeki to break the political impasse in the southern African nation.

Mbeki has been at the centre of the delicate arbitration between Zimbabwe's feuding political parties, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the ruling ZANU PF. His efforts have however so far drawn a blank although he is still in touch with both parties which he continues to meet regularly for consultations.

African states and institutions, which previously steadfastly refused to censure Zimbabwe for the deteriorating political and economic situation, have, in recent months, brought pressure to bear on Harare.

Only last week, Zimbabwean government officials made frantic efforts to avert the adoption by the African Union (AU) heads of state and government of a damaging report on human rights violations, prepared by the AU's Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) and circulated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Although the government has, in recent weeks, proposed changes to the country's electoral laws which currently favour the ruling ZANU PF, opposition groups and critics have argued that these were insufficient as they focused primarily on the monitoring of elections, not the process itself.

While the proposed changes, which were approved by the ZANU PF politburo, will mean, among other things, that voting will be conducted in one day and that translucent ballot boxes will be used, they do not address fundamental issues such as equal access to public media by all parties. The ruling party has maintained an iron grip on the state media to the exclusion of all dissenting voices.

However, the SADC draft, which was produced on June 9, is expected to stir a lot of debate at the Mauritius summit, which opens on August 9 and ends on August 17, as it seeks to address some of these contentious issues.

Political analysts and opposition political parties that have perused the draft proposals were yesterday adamant the measures were part of diplomatic tactics being employed by SADC heads of states, disappointed by the unresolved political crisis in Zimbabwe, to nudge President Robert Mugabe to return the country to normalcy.

"It is a way of trying to solve Zimbabwe's political crisis by using SADC. Heads of state in SADC have failed using other avenues. Now they are using the principles and guidelines governing democratic elections as a way of forcing President Mugabe to at least ensure free and fair elections," said a diplomat.

"President Mbeki has failed dismally with his quiet diplomacy. It is thought that he has found a way to short-circuit the process of solving Zimbabwe's problems. Maybe if there are free and fair elections whose outcome is accepted by everyone, including the opposition, the problem will disappear," added the diplomat.

The draft states that SADC member states holding elections should ensure that polling stations are situated in neutral places and counting of the votes is carried out at the polling stations.

It also emphasises the use of translucent ballot boxes, among other conditions necessary in holding elections in a democratic state and that SADC observer missions should be deployed at least two weeks before the voting day.

Authors of the draft, viewed as taking a sterner stance on regional states with democratic deficits, want member states to adhere to seven principles to ensure the conduct of democratic elections.

Some of the proposed principles include the full participation of the citizens in the political process, freedom of association, political tolerance, equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media and equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for.

The draft says there should be independence of the judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions and voter education in member states conducting elections in their respective countries, aspects analysts and the opposition say are non-existent in present day Zimbabwe.

To determine the nature and scope of election observation and monitoring, the draft says SADC member states should be guided by constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom and rights of the citizens, a conducive environment for free and peaceful elections.

It advocates non-discrimination in voters' registration and existence of updated and accessible voters' roll.

The announcement of the election dates should be timeous, and where applicable, funding for political parties must be transparent and based on agreed thresholds in accordance with the laws of the land.

Member states conducting elections should facilitate the establishment of the mechanism for assisting the planning and deployment of electoral observation missions.

The draft also outlines the code of conduct for elections observers and monitors that are consistent with those of the OAU/AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa.

These include the principle that the observer missions must comply with all national laws and regulations and shall maintain strict impartiality in the conduct of their duties.

Responsibilities for the member state holding elections would entail establishing "impartial, all-inclusive, competent and accountable national electoral bodies staffed by qualified personnel, as well as competent legal entities including effective constitutional courts to arbitrate in the event of disputes arising from the conduct of elections".

Zimbabwe's electoral bodies, solely appointed by President Mugabe, were compromised in this regard.

The draft further states that member states must safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression and campaigning, prevent fraud, rigging or any other illegal practices throughout the whole electoral process and ensure adequate security is provided to all parties in the election race, among other acceptable conditions in a democracy.


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