Further Electoral Commission Reforms Required

By Pedzisai Ruhanya (PhD Candidate, Media and Democracy, University of Westminster, London)

In any critical political transition relative to the management of credible elections it is important to address both the institutional and personnel inadequacies of the systems governing the process. Elections in Zimbabwe should not be reduced to a simple issue of free and fair because it has been argued that it does not do justice to the process which is far more complex than that.

In this regard, the personnel of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) and the Registrar General's office should be subjected to public scrutiny with a view of increasing public accountability and transparency in the administration of the country's political systems relative to the administration of elections.

These two institutions and the individuals running them have been part of the crisis the country is faced with not forgetting the political players, the repressive or coercive apparatus and other institutions of consensual political hegemony such as the media, churches, compromised and Zanunised intellectuals and the arts sector.

Ms. Joyce Kazembe has been with ZEC since its predecessor the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) as vice-chairperson of the Zamchiya-led ESC since 1996. Ms. Kazembe was involved in the 1996 presidential election in which Robert Mugabe was uncontested after the late nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole pulled out alleging electoral malpractices. Tobaiwa Mudede was also part of the electoral team as the Registrar of elections.

Kazembe was part of the 2000, 2002, 2005 and the 2008 violent, hotly disputed and sham presidential election run-off deemed not credible by Zimbabweans, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) leading to the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that year and consequently the consummation of the Inclusive Government in February 2009.

During the last election, she was vice chairperson of ZEC, deputizing Brigadier George Chiweshe now, High Court Judge President. Chiweshe got promoted to the current post after running the sham polls in 2008.

In 2002 and 2005 elections when Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba promoted recently by Mugabe was the electoral Supervisory Commission chief executive officer, Kazembe was the deputy chair to Sobuza Gula-Ndebele.

It was during that period that Nyikayaramba recruited intelligence officers, soldiers and ZANU PF supporters into the secretariat of ESC now ZEC. Kazembe and Gula-Ndebele did not raise issues with a serving army general running an election in which his commander-in-chief, Mugabe, was a candidate. The 2002 presidential elections process and out comes were disputed on account of violence, arson and political murders as well as the involvement of the security apparatus outside the provisions of the Defense and Electoral Acts. It was a controversial victory for Mugabe that Kazembe and her colleagues presided over and declared free and fair. Why does she think that the public should trust her role in elections management under such circumstances?

What now boggles the mind are purely arrogant and misguided comments and outburst by Kazembe that ZEC secretariat was professional and there was no infiltration by the security forces. Such kind of arrogance cannot be taken lying down.

The June elections was marked by everything that the Electoral Act forbids; political violence, abductions, enforced disappearances, deaths, arsons not to mention the delays involved in releasing the results of the presidential elections in March 2008.

ZEC under Chiweshe and Kazembe did not see everything that the majority of political players, ordinary citizens, SADC and the AU saw; that the elections were not credible. They went ahead to announce that the sole candidate, President Mugabe won but the victory was shameful and unacceptable hence the inclusive government.

I would now take further my argument and postulate that it is not only ZEC staff that cannot administer credible elections but some of the commissioners like Joyce Kazembe should be excused totally from running elections not because we have hard evidence of wrong doing but her continuous association with a failed body, failed intuition casts doubt about her suitability as a public electoral management figure.

Maybe it would be important for Kazembe to tell Zimbabweans what motivates her to remain in such a discredited institution for this long? Is she not bothered that her name is now associated with electoral intransigence, manipulation? Has she not had enough of the job having been there for more than a decade now? Why and what motivates you Joyce to remain in ZEC, is it the love of your country? Answering such questions could help fellow citizens to appreciate your love for the job.

These same questions should equally be asked to Tobaiwa Mudede, the Registrar who has been there for a longer period. Apart from the 1980 elections Mudede has been involved in the administration of elections since 1985.

I argue for democratizing the electoral management bodies and the removal of personnel associated with blocking democratic transition by failing to administer electoral process in a credible manner. When dealing with political transitions, it is important to learn something from the theory of elite continuity so that there are no face powder changes that fail to produce desired institutional renewal. As reforms take place at the institutional level, it also important to make sure that the elites that give oxygen to repression and electoral malpractices also pack their bags if they are not willing to reform, have a ne w political culture of transparency and democratic accountability.

In these state institutions such as ZBC and state-run newspapers, ZANU PF like the Rhodesia Front staffed them with party surrogates who do hatchet and shameless work in support of a dysfunctional and illegitimate political elite singing for its political super. The party workers in these institutions and their ideologues who masquerade as commentators in newspapers, radio and television are so shameless to the extent that they have failed to show their distinction from the operations of colonial institutions that some of them claim they fought against.

These continuities pointed above also replicates themselves in ZEC and the Registrar-General's Office. What the other elements do at ZBC, Broadcasting Services Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) where Tafataona Mahoso is conducting sham and partisan license adjudication and awarding ZANU PF aligned personalities and institutions such as Zimpapers who work hand and in gloves with ZEC when it comes to making sure that the political elite of ZANU PF continue holding illegitimate power. These are well crafted and thought out processes by the ZANU PF intellectuals to entrench themselves in power bar the will of the people.

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