Transparency Necessary for Verifiability
Our new President has promised Zimbabweans and the international community that the impending elections will be “free and fair”. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] has promised to deliver free and fair elections.
Every Zimbabwean wants the elections to be conducted properly so that their results are recognised at home and by other countries. But this recognition will only be given if it can be verified that the elections have been conducted properly as promised. And this cannot be verified unless there is more transparency than ZEC has shown to date.
In April this year Veritas lodged an application in the High Court for an order that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] should be more transparent in its preparations for the elections. Unfortunately the court delayed setting the application down so Veritas had to apply for an urgent hearing, but even after this there have been delays. Although the case was heard on the 21st June – three weeks ago – there has been no ruling. It is now less than two weeks before the elections.
The fact that the application was heard so late was beyond Veritas’s control. It has been suggested that the bringing of so many electoral court cases so near to the polling date is an attempt to undermine or postpone the elections. That is certainly not so in this case or in any other election case taken by Veritas. Our sole purpose has been to ensure the integrity of the elections by trying to see that they are verifiably conducted according to the Constitution so that the outcome is acceptable to all.
Recap of the Transparency Case
Details of the order sought by Veritas are set out in Election Watch 24/2018 of the 16th June 2018, but very broadly Veritas asked the court to order ZEC:
- to publish its standard operating procedures and manuals relating to the conduct of the elections, in particular to disclose the measures it will take to ensure security of ballot papers, counted votes and other election materials,
- to disclose how it selects its staff and to publish the names of persons seconded to its service for the purpose of the elections, and
- not to delegate its functions to anyone who is not directly accountable and transparent
The application was heard as a matter of urgency on the 21st June but judgment has not yet been delivered.
Need for Transparency
Veritas has constantly stressed the need for elections to be transparent, so there is no need to repeat our reasons here, except to say that:
- The Constitution requires electoral processes to be transparent.
- If ZEC is open and transparent in the way it is conducting elections and in its internal procedures, the results of the elections are much more likely to be accepted by all parties, no matter who wins.
Since the application was heard, the need for electoral transparency has become even more apparent: for example, the controversy over printing ballot papers would not have arisen if ZEC had told political parties where and by whom the ballot papers were to be printed and had allowed the parties to observe the process.
The elections are nearly upon us and the need for transparency becomes greater by the day. Veritas therefore:
- through its lawyer, has requested the judge to deliver his judgment in the application as soon as possible
- urges ZEC, even in the absence of a judgment, to release the information that Veritas requested and, generally, to conduct the remaining electoral processes with the utmost transparency.
Veritas notes that in the last few days ZEC has published on its website an electoral officers’ manual. It is very useful, though it begins ominously with the words: “This reference guide must be read together with the Electoral Act and Regulations”. Few teachers and other civil servants seconded to ZEC for electoral duty will have time or opportunity before the elections to plough through the Act and its detailed regulations. Probably the same goes for political party polling agents and civil society observers. Certainly they are not easy for the general public to understand.