On Thursday 27th January 2022, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual Public Meeting on the topic “Is Zimbabwe Ready for the 26 March 2022 by-elections?” The objectives of the meeting were to assess the state of preparedness for the 26 March 2022 by-elections, to determine whether conditions exist for a free, fair and credible by-elections and to proffer recommendations for the improvement of the conduct of the by-elections and other future elections on all levels.
The panel comprised a team of political and civil society experts; Effie Ncube, a Human Rights Defender; Grace Chirenje, a feminist Development Practitioner; Advocate Madock Chivasa, the Secretary-General of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) party; Tafadzwa Mugwadi, the ZANU-PF Director for Information and Publicity; Nyasha Goredema from the Alliance of the People’s Agenda and Nomuhle Nyoni from the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe.
They analysed several aspects regards Zimbabwe’s readiness to hold by-elections including the current legal framework; access to the media by different political parties and other stakeholders towards the election; the role of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), political parties, civil society and other stakeholders in ensuring the success of the elections. The meeting also discussed the participation of marginalised groups like women and the youth in the by-elections.
On the coverage of the media for election purposes, Advocate Chivasa noted that coverage is far from being equitable, particularly on national radio. He explained that some political parties do get equal airplay on radio or national television, and proposed that a law be put forward to make sure that players get equal coverage.
Effie Ncube propounded that the Electoral Management Body Commission’s engagement with political parties’ engagement is limited as it is only possible at the invitation of ZEC through the Multi-Party Liaison Committee meetings. He recommended strengthening ZEC independence to enhance its credibility in the conduct of elections. He also implored ZEC to employ strategies to ensure that young people who have not yet registered to vote to do so before the upcoming harmonised elections.
Asked what strategies civil society and political parties can use to ensure that young people are not left out in the upcoming by-elections, Grace Chirenje recommended that information be disseminated to young people in a way that resonates with them; that is through channels that they are more familiar with, especially the social media. She also called for more to be done to get young people the appropriate identity documents that they need to register to vote and a conducive environment for an environment for young people to participate, particularly young women.
Tafadzwa Mugwadi highlighted that ZANU-PF does not look up to ZEC for their success in elections but engages at grassroots people who give them their victory. He castigated the culture of inviting outside players to scrutinise the elections in Zimbabwe. He also recommended that political parties and electoral stakeholders who have electoral grievances to seek recourse through engaging the election management body and desist from speaking through the media.
Nomuhle Nyoni was of the view that civil society and political parties must empower women into create a safe and conducive environment for them to participate as well as inspire their confidence in the elections. In order to ensure that there is a 50/50 representation of men and women in the 26 March by-elections and future elections, the panellist recommended that there should be ongoing workshops, training and capacity building exercise for women and advocacy to make sure that political parties that do not meet the 50:50 quota will not be registered. She however highlighted that the majority of women will not be able to participate because of patriarchal concerns, financial reasons and short time frames.
Answering a question on strategies that can be used to ensure people’s participation in the by-elections in light of the prevalent COVID-19 pandemic, Nyasha Goredema noted that social media platforms can be utilised for community mobilisation. She cited the example of the recent Zambian elections where young people and women came together with civil society organisations to interact with political candidates via social media.
When the discussion was opened to the floor for opinions and comments, most of the participants who shared their views were of the thinking that the electoral environment in Zimbabwe is in many ways not yet conducive for the upcoming elections.
Panellists expressed mixed opinions on Zimbabwe’s readiness with Tafadzwa Mugwadi expressing that ZANU-PF started preparing for the by-elections the minute the seats fell vacant and so are ready for the elections. Other panellists felt that readiness is relative, depending on who is asked. Grace Chirenje noted that while ZEC and some political parties may be ready, young people may not be ready because of limited voter education and lack of registration. It was also emphasized that some of the smaller political parties have limited resources and cannot be said to be ready. Other factors noted on the lack of readiness include the shrinking civic and democratic space, which leads to an increase in abuse of human rights, the restrictions on political party campaigning and the general lack of the implementation of electoral reforms. This, according to MadocK Chivasa has resulted in some political parties opting not to participate in the by-elections but focusing their efforts on the upcoming 2023 Harmonised elections.
The virtual meeting was a great success as it fulfilled the objective of gathering views and opinions on the readiness of different stakeholders for the upcoming by-elections and proffering recommendations on how the political, legislative and administrative environment can be improved for the conduct of more credible elections. The meeting attracted about 70 participants on the ZOOM platform where it was conducted and reached 14 355 people on the ZESN Facebook page.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network