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Towards Restoration of Meaning to Elections

Towards Restoration of Meaning to Elections

Elections - that formal process through which individuals are choose or are chosen to hold particular public positions, especially political in parliament or government - has, mainly in Africa, been riddled with obstacles and distortions that have virtually removed the essence of elections. That elections are supposed to give effect to the democratic principle of direct individual participation in the governance of their country ceases to become the case given the levels of violence, manipulation and control of electoral processes but those with vested interests. That Zambia recently held exemplary elections give rise to well-placed expectations that Zimbabwe could achieve the same if adequate preparations are made ahead of fresh elections.

Given the levels of violence, misinformation, vote-rigging and chicanery that has characterized previous elections in Zimbabwe, there is widespread disillusionment among ordinary Zimbabweans that elections are a viable vehicle through which citizens can effectively participate in choosing their leaders. Few believe that going for elections or voting would make a difference - or that their vote would count. As a result many do not bother voting at all. The 2008 elections were characterized by extreme levels of voter apathy, especially in urban areas and the low voter turn out created wider room for the manipulation of votes. For the person on the streets, elections have lost meaning, they have been reduced to a worthless exercise that needlessly exposes people to the risk of violence or some other political harm.

It appears that, just as the time came for Zambians eager for political change to say enough is enough and put their faith in the electoral process to deliver political change, time is ripe for Zimbabweans to invest in elections to achieve peaceful, lasting political change. While the peaceful electoral process in Zambia, together with an equally peaceful and smooth transfer of power for one administration to another may appear out of the blue and miraculous to observers it certainly was not. A lot of hard work went into preparing for elections and in ensuring that Zambia has credible, independent institutions responsible for elections management and the various pro-democracy political parties went on a massive drive to canvass for votes without resort to violence.

A key lesson that we can learn from Zambia is that democratic elections to not just happen all by themselves. A lot of work goes into restoration true meaning and relevance to electoral processes and into removing obstacles to the holding of free and fair polls. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) does not just become truly independent and professional overnight, people must insist on and ensure its independence.

We need a massive, multi-sectoral and multi-pronged voter and civic education drive across the country that restores people's confidence in the electoral process leading them to take immediate steps to be registered to as voters ready to make their voice heard. Voter education is essential to counter widespread misinformation especially in rural areas where potential voters have often been misinformed that the vote is not secret giving rise to a fear of reprisals from opponents who pretend to have mechanisms to tell a voter's choice.

A recent survey on electoral issues revealed appalling disinterest in electoral processes among the youths, the majority of whom have not bothered to be registers as voters. Political parties should not confuse rally attendances with registered voters, the two groups are often not identical and therefore political parties should seek to ensure that their members and supporters are registered to vote. Thousands of youths who would otherwise engage in political violence activities should be targeted to register as voters and to be champions of peaceful elections as the only viable way to achieve lasting political change in the country.

Beyond the administrative aspects of preparing for elections, villages, wards, communities should organize their members into peace brigades with a responsibility to prevent violence, or expose wherever it occurs, and to defend peace in their areas. When communities preach and practice zero tolerance to violence it will be impossible for outsiders to instigate and perpetrate violence. Communities should now plan of easy, but fast ways of monitoring and exposing merchants of violence and shaming the political leadership that promotes violence. With violence and ignorance, or misinformation out of the way, it will be possible to restore relevance and significance to elections.

Dewa Mavhinga, Regional Coordinator, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

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