The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) in collaboration with the Electoral Support Network of Southern Africa (ESN-SA) , the Public Policy Research Institute of Zimbabwe (PPRIZ) and the Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE) hosted a virtual public meeting on the topic; “ Zambia Elections Lessons Learned: Political Party Perspectives” on Thursday 9th of September 2021. Panelists were Mr. Paul Mangwana of Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Honorable Paurina Mpariwa of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirayi (MDC-T), Dr. Strike Mkandla of Zimbabwe African Patriotic Front (ZAPU), Dr. Maxwell Shumba of ZIMFIRST and Honorable Elizabeth Chitika of Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) Zambia. The other panelists who were invited but could not join the meeting were Gladys Hlatshwayo of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC A), Professor Lovemore Madhuku, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) President and Cosmos Musumali of the Patriotic Front, Zambia.
The meeting was held at the backdrop of the 2021 Zambia Elections, allowing for political parties from the two countries to reflect together on how to work towards a conducive electoral environment. A history of disputed electoral results continues to haunt the electoral space and it is imperative for the Electoral Management Body (EMBs), the Political Parties and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to work together to facilitate an enabling electoral environment where the right to vote is protected and respected. The meeting drew key lessons from the Zambian experience meant to strengthen future elections in Zimbabwe and beyond.
The discussion was based on a Question/ Answer approach and focused on answering key questions on the feasibility of conducting elections under COVID-19, women participation in electoral issues, youth participation in electoral issues, voter registration and voters’ roll issues as well as delimitation. The Moderator Belinda Ncube noted that there were key lessons to be learnt from the Zambian elections under these themes.
Hon. Paurina Mpariwa of the MDC-T noted that elections should unify rather than divide people. She applauded Zambians for giving women and the youths an opportunity to participate in elections and recommended that some constituencies should be reserved for women only in order to promote women participation in future elections. Hon Mpariwa highlighted that the youth are not clueless about politics and what they want. She further highlighted that over the years the MDC-T has made deliberate attempts to include the young people in its structures. She spoke about the importance of the delimitation exercise and the need to follow the law when conducting it. Hon Mpariwa also emphasized the importance of digitalizing the voter registration process, in order to make the process more user friendly for those who live far from the registration centres, as well as to make it more efficient accessible. She applauded the Zambian CSOs for playing an important role in mobilizing communities including women, the youth and People with Disabilities (PWDs) to go and register to vote. Hon Mpariwa also stressed the importance of having political party agents at all polling stations on Election Day.
Mr. Paul Mangwana of ZANU-PF noted that cheating in an election starts with inefficiencies in the delimitation and voter registration processes, hence the need to conduct a sound proof delimitation exercise. He encouraged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to tap into technology in order to address potential inefficiencies and to invest in securing the voters roll. He encouraged the use of discussion platforms such as the Political Parties Dialogue (POLAD) for political parties to engage stakeholders on the election process. On women participation in elections, Mangwana noted that the ZANU-PF started empowering women during the liberation struggle. He however bemoaned that the electoral system of first past the post has not achieved gender balance and proposed the change of the electoral system to proportional representation for all structures. He however stressed that it will take more than just a change of the electoral system but that a change of mindset is also needed. He also encouraged the restructuring of the main political bodies in order to accommodate more youthful people in the electoral process.
Hon. Elizabeth Chitika of MMD Zambia gave some highlights of the election proceedings in the recently held elections in Zambia. She encouraged that when it comes to voter registration, there should be the up scaling of the issuance of Identity documents, people should have access to registration centres and the process must be done in good time before the Election Day. Hon. Chitika encouraged the institutions of programmes that encourage women to participate, and noted that some of this would call for constitutional reforms, including the change of the electoral system to proportional representation. She urged political parties not to use the youth as instruments for political violence. Hon Chitika encouraged that all people including political parties shun political violence and the loss of lives during the election period. On results management, the panelist noted that in Zambia the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) wanted to announce the results first before verification by political party agents and other stakeholders, however stakeholders managed to put their feet down to ensure transparency and integrity, and to be able to track the results. Hon Chitika blamed EMBs for being partisan sometimes, which undermines efforts of political parties and other stakeholders. She applauded the Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue for a commendable job in bringing parties together for dialogue before Election Day.
Dr. Maxwell Shumba of ZIMFIRST spoke about the need for election authorities in Zimbabwe to stop using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for not holding elections citing the example of the recently held polls in Zambia and various other countries successfully within the pandemic. He also spoke against political violence and intimidation, the need to digitalize voter registration and ensure that the voters roll is availed on time and in a manner that allows people to verify and rectify mistakes in time before elections. He urged political parties to play their part in ensuring that people register to vote. Dr. Shumba observed that most women tend to support male electoral candidates rather than their fellow women, and that women are often discouraged from participating in elections because of the fear of violence. On the whole, Dr. Shumba said the biggest lesson learnt from the Zambian elections is the need for independent EMBs and the need for harmony and peace among contesting parties.
Dr. Strike Mkandla of ZAPU reminded participants that it is not automatic that happened in Zambia can also happen in Zimbabwe, unless the necessary environment is created and the appropriate reforms are instituted. He observed that unless one is copying from someone else’s slate, they cannot reproduce their experiences. Dr Mkandla noted that there is a lot of abuse being perpetrated against women, which discourages their participation in elections. He also pointed out that there are some outstanding issues, for example the Gukurahundi issue which has not yet been resolved, and that these continue to rear their ugly head especially during elections.
When the debate was opened to the floor, several participants expressed their opinions on the subject. One participant was of the opinion that political parties need to radicalize their approach to the women’s movement, as women are often locked in the women’s league and not given the necessary exposure to enable them to participate as candidates in elections. Some participants also expressed concern about some politicians who contest in rural areas where they don’t stay and after winning they forget about their constituencies until the next election. One of the panelists responded that there is need to put in place mechanisms that politicians only contest in areas that they are resident in, and need to be followed up on how they will be representing their constituencies afterwards.
In conclusion, the meeting managed to lay solid foundation for engagement on the political parties’ participation in elections. The meeting was attended by about 65 people on the ZOOM platform and garnered 11 253 views on Facebook.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network