Activity Highlight on the Electoral Reforms Petition Workshop held in Kariba

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) held a one and half-day Electoral Reforms Petition workshop in Kariba from 4 to 5 June 2019. The workshop, which came as a follow up to the petition submitted to Parliament by the Network on 3 December 2018, was aimed at providing greater clarity on the proposed reforms.

The overall objective of the workshop was to engage the Parliament of Zimbabwe to consider the gaps in the legislative framework of elections for the democratic overhaul of Zimbabwe’s electoral law. In attendance were the Speaker of Parliament; Honourable Advocate Jacob Mudenda; members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs; representatives from government Ministries; representatives from the Gender Commission; Civil Society Organisations; and ZESN partners.

Presentations were made by local and regional election experts on topics relating to specific gaps in the legal framework of elections which included:

  • diaspora voting;
  • hurdles to women and youths’ participation;
  • legal provisions in relation to political parties’ regulation and funding;
  • electoral dispute resolution and mechanisms; and
  • political environment reforms, among others.

In his opening remarks, the Speaker of Parliament, Honourable Advocate Jacob Mudenda noted that “This petition, comes at the most vital moment in that it creates thorough leverages to interrogate and take stock of our electoral laws, identify gaps and shortcomings in our electoral system that can be refined in order to promote and enhance democracy, transparency, and an effective democratic electoral system.” Honourable Mudenda applauded the network for utilising constitutional provisions, in particular Section 149, to petition Parliament. He also commented the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee for taking the petition process seriously and for demonstrating commitment and institutional accountability in seeking more clarity and engaging with ZESN. Among other things, Hon. Mudenda said that ZEC must be allowed to execute its duties free from Executive interference in line with the Constitution and that the Commission’s independence must be guaranteed by legislation and funding.

The Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Roselyn Hanzi, called for the alignment of the Electoral Act with the Constitution since, to date, amendments have been piecemeal. It was also noted that Political Parties Funding Act, Political Parties Act, Traditional Leaders Act, Urban Councils Act, and Rural District Councils Act need to be reviewed.

Honourable Dexter Nduna, noted the need to improve legal provisions in support of the representation of youths and People with Disabilities (PwDs) in elections and electoral processes. It was noted that political parties are reluctant to institute measures to promote women’s participation in electoral processes. Sakhile Sifelani Ngoma of the Women in Politics Support Unit noted that gender inequality is a product of range of factors including gaps in the electoral law, political environment, nature of election and public administration, among others. Barriers to women’s participation in elections were noted as including hate speech, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, exploitation, intra-party violence, cross party violence, and access to funds. Mrs Ngoma noted that 103 sexual harassment cases were recorded in the last elections and that women are subjected to hate speech 5 times more than male candidates. Honourable Shirichena suggested that 50% of the constituencies should be reserved for and contested by women in the elections.

Virginia Muwanigwa, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission Chief Executive Officer, said the Commission is working to ensure 50-50 representation of men and women in electoral processes. Honourable Mudenda said political parties should amend their constitutions to ensure gender parity. South African Elections Expert, Dr. Victor Shale, implored Zimbabwe to consider what South Africa has done in implementing the 50-50 gender parity in cabinet at party level.

Misheck Gondo of the National Association of Youth Organisations presented on some of the hurdles to youth participation in elections including the proof of residence requirement during the voter registration exercise. He also noted that a peaceful environment will go a long way in encouraging youths to participate in electoral processes and called for a youth development model to improve the participation of youths in electoral processes before and after the elections. Desmond Sharukai of the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust suggested the enactment of a parliamentary youth quota in supporting and promoting the participation of youths in elections and politics.

Lovemore Rambiyawo of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) said fear of political violence deters PwDs from actively participating in electoral processes. He called on Parliament to domesticate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of PwDs which Zimbabwe is signatory to. He also noted the need to protect the constitutional rights of PWDs, including secrecy of the vote.

Prisiel Samu of Media Monitors proffered that ZEC needs a monitoring committee to regulate media timeously before, during, and after elections since the media plays a critical role in the holding of credible elections, hence it needs to be free from governmental, political and economic control.

Dr Shale, former Country Representative of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy on Africa in Zimbabwe, emphasised that unresolved historical and political tensions have led to deeply contested political space and political polarisation and also noted the need to come up with appropriate administrative remedies to build trust in the electoral processes. He provided an array of formal and informal Electoral Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (EDRM) that could be considered by parliament. He also provided results of a review that was done on the work of Multi Party Liaison Committees that operated at the provincial level. Rose Hanzi, Director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights provided a summary of the specific gaps that still existed in the existing framework for elections and how it impacted on the credibility of elections and electoral processes.

The National Democratic Institute Zimbabwe Country Director, Simon Osborn noted the need to come up with Political Party Act that makes provisions for regulating the registration, financing, and functioning of political parties. He said the Act should provide for and regulate both the public and private funding for political parties, and make provisions for disclosure of the funds received.

Elections expert, Taona Mwanyisa, said elections have disenfranchised significant proportions of the eligible voting population outside the country noting that the laws providing for diaspora voting have limited the category of Zimbabweans who can cast their ballots from outside the country especially by operation of Sections 12 and 13 of the Electoral Act which provide for instances in which postal votes are permissible. Mwanyisa presented options including personal, postal, and electronic voting, proposing a mixed model for diaspora voting. He highlighted the need to consider administrative, transparency, and secrecy of the vote issues in considering diaspora voting. In terms of results management, he noted the need to explore the use of ICTs in election management systems to ensure the expeditious transmission of results to the National Results Centre in a manner that enhances transparency and fosters greater public trust and confidence in the Election Management Body (ZEC).

The workshop also discussed the need for strong laws, consistency in implementation, and creation of strong institutions that are essential for creating a conducive political environment ahead of 2023 elections.

In his closing remarks, the Speaker of Parliament reiterated the need to consider the registration for political parties, the institutionalisation of the Multi-party Liaison Committees, and the need for a comprehensive Electoral Law that is in line with the Constitution, and regional and international standards governing the conduct of democratic elections.

Honourable Mudenda also noted that the ZEC has not complied with the Constitution in particular, Section 119, as it has not yet submitted its 2018 Harmonised Elections Report to Parliament. He also implored CSOs to take note of Section 287 which implores Parliament to create an Act of Parliament which provides for the establishment, membership and procedures of an Integrity and Ethics Committee of Chiefs. This Act would, among other things, enforce integrity and ethical conduct on the part of traditional leaders. Advocate Mudenda urged CSOs to take cognisance of Section 167 subsection 2 of the Constitution which empowers citizens to hold Parliament accountable.

The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Misheck Mataranyika said his Committee will engage the Minister of Justice, consider submissions from Chapter 12 Institutions, including ZEC, CSOs that provided technical input through presentations at the workshop, findings from public hearings, and other key electoral stakeholders and come up with a report which will feed into the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that will tabled before Cabinet for debate.

In her closing remarks, the ZESN Director, Mrs Rindai Chipfunde-Vava expressed gratitude to attendees, the Speaker of Parliament for attending for the duration of the entire workshop, and Parliamentarians for their attentiveness and critical questions clearly demonstrating the willingness and commitment to support electoral reforms.

The ZESN Director indicated that she believed the workshop, especially with the presence of policy makers, was a forum to ensure the necessary collaborative multi-stakeholder approach in interrogating where Zimbabwe has been missing it in terms of ensuring democratic electoral processes as success in the endeavour of holding free, fair and credible elections could not be accomplished by the electoral commission (ZEC) alone.

Mrs Vava also indicated that electoral and political reforms would ensure that future electoral processes are not disputed and they comply with domestic, regional, and international standards that govern the conduct of democratic electoral processes. She also concluded by stressing ZESN’s commitment and availability to further engage with Parliament on issues pertaining to electoral reforms.

Source: Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN)