The Role of Civil Society Organisations in the Electoral Cycle Amid COVID-19

Zimbabwe, like many other countries has been holding elections since pre- and post-independence. This to some extent demonstrate the commitment to prove that the nation is keen to conform to the principles of democracy and good governance. The tenets of a democracy provides that election should ensure the rights of citizens to willingly and fully participate in the electoral process within a free, fair and credible environment. Critics to the election mode for Zimbabwe both locally and internationally have highlighted that we are a country that has always been in an election’s mode. This results in the relegation of the core functions of government of facilitating development and ensuring progressive realization of fundamental citizens’ rights. Distribution of factors of production, food handouts, empowerment programmes have been alleged to have been executed on party lines than humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. This is believed to have compromised the credibility of electoral processes.

Zimbabwe holds elections after every five years and the current regime of elections are harmonized. The last harmonized elections were conducted in 2018. These were generally regarded as peaceful elections but had others irregularities that were highlighted. Traditionally, elections were one of the major drivers of conflict and violence. Several initiatives were done by CSOs and other stakeholders to lobby and influence the process to be violent free.

Various stakeholders have critical and unique roles to contribute during the electoral process. Participating political parties have a role to field in and campaign for their candidates at the same time restraining their supports that they will not get involved in violence. Citizens have a role to choose and vote for their preferred candidates as well as ensuring that they will not be influenced to infringe on the freedoms and rights for others citizens. The media must play a responsible role in reporting on the election and informing the electorate about the election. The key player in the electoral process if the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) which has the primary responsibility of ensuring the preparation, conduct, supervise and execution of elections. CSOs play a watchdog role of making sure that the rights of citizens are upheld and honored at every stage of the electoral process as well as offering voter education. The importance of stake-holder engagement in the electoral process Is key to ensuring that elections are held in a peaceful, free, fair environment. This is paramount to have credible elections. Zimbabwe is going for elections in 2023 and different stakeholders have started preparing for the elections. As such, it is key to facilitate their work by ensuring open and enabling environment.

Civil Society Organisations who are members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), Election Resource Centre (ERC), Zimbabwe NGO Forum and NANGO have been playing pivotal roles complimenting each other in enhancing the contribution of CSOs around the election’s process. NANGO coordinates efforts aimed at promoting the inclusion, equal treatment, and participation in democratic governance by CSOs in Zimbabwe to ensure sustainable peace and economic development at the same time ensuring that No One is Left Behind. Through this, NANGO has been and continues to play an oversight, monitoring, advocacy and lobby roles on government and quasi government institutions to guarantee fulfilment of their obligations to promote a democratic society as enshrined in regional and international instruments and protocols ratified by Zimbabwe. Some of them include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose article 21 (3) particularly states that:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.

The work of NANGO in relation to the 30 July 2018 harmonised elections were in five phases. The first phase involved setting up of policy engagement platforms to facilitate behaviour and attitude change, that put in place a community and national level infrastructure for peace. At the same time non-state actors interacted with key stakeholders such as political party leaders, independent commissions, development partners, traditional leaders, police amongst others.

The second phase involved CSO capacity building initiatives, on conflict prevention, management, resolution and transformation, voter education and election observation. The third phase involved dissemination of information on elections through various media platforms. The fourth phase monitored other stakeholders’ execution of their roles in the electoral process such as the independent commissions, media, political parties, CSOs and security sector. This work led to the fifth phase of election observation and reporting.

The principles of democracy are enshrined under Article 2(1) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and seeks to “Promote adherence, by each State Party, to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights.” Section 3 (2) (f) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe reposes the authority to govern in the people of Zimbabwe. In addition, section 117 grants the legislature the power “… to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe”. Given such fertile ground for the growth of democracy, it informs and spurs CSOs to effectively programme and make sure that the principles of democracy in particular the respect for the rule of law, transparency, accountability, citizen participation and respect for human rights are adhered to.

Observations from the previous elections reveal that there are gaps in promoting democracy and governance especially for marginalised groups. In this view, new strategic partnerships are very critical to support movement building on democracy and governance; and NANGO believe that not only will it learn and benefit from the collaboration and partnerships but it will yield results in areas of coordination, capacity building, advocacy and networking for the organisation.

COVID-19 has changed the way of life and that also looks at how elections can be carried out. Thus, the upcoming elections need to follow a similar method that protects the public from getting infections during elections. The CSOs will be ready to assist Government and provide models that can enhance the election process even during such environment. In the end the process must encompass 3 pillars namely be Inclusive (leaving no one behind), Peaceful and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Source: NANGO

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