The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual Public Meeting on the topic “The Adverse Impact of Violence on Electoral processes and Citizen Participation.” On Tuesday 15th March 2022. The major objectives of the meeting were to reflect on the pre-electoral environment ahead of the 26 March 2022 by-elections; raise awareness on the effects of violence on electoral processes and citizen participation and share strategies and recommendations to relevant duty bearers to prevent and respond to political violence.
Panellists were drawn from a team of political parties and civil society experts. The panellists were Honourable Fortune Chasi, ZANU-PF Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs; Honourable Brian Dube, MDC A Secretary for Justice and Legal Affairs; Ms Jestina Mukoko, the National Director of Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Mr. Blessing Nyamaropa, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) Deputy Director and Mr. Kevin Mapanda the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) Mobilizing Secretary. The Citizen Coalition for Change was invited and had initaially confirmed their participation in the discussion but did not make it for the webinar.
The meeting focused on analysing the current electoral environment in the context of the upcoming by-elections and the experiences of the stakeholders in working on prevention, rapid response and support around electoral violence and the gaps in the framework for dealing with political violence. The discussion also sought to establish mechanisms put in place by political party representatives to address issues of political violence in relation to the protection of special groups namely women, the youth and People with Disabilities (PWDs).
Panellists concurred that the political environment with tensions already high in communities is not conducive for the holding of free and fair elections. It was noted that cases of political and electoral violence are increasing and one person died as a result of violence. An increase in intolerance of divergent views and one’s choice of association has also been witnessed as political leaders and activists continue to trade insults on public and online platforms. One of the panellists, Hon Brian Dube attributed political violence to the extreme intolerance that arises from different political parties not giving each other space in the political arena. One of the panellists, Hon Fortune Chasi noted that it is everyone’s right to choose whoever they want to support, and leaders need to be responsible in the language that they use in public platforms in particular.
Another panellist, Jestina Mukoko was of the opinion that political violence being experienced in Zimbabwe will result in the disenfranchisement of many people. She highlighted that violation of political parties’ rights through disturbing and banning of rallies often results in the curtailment of the freedom of association and assembly. She added that perpetrators are not being held accountable for their actions. She recommended that the Multi-Party Liason Committees that are provided for by the Electoral Court a permanent feature of the electoral cycle and are not only activated towards elections as is currently the case.
Kevin Mapanda observed that many Zimbabweans have a culture of thinking that politics is a game of violence and that political parties have a major role in coming together to shame violence in their rallies and their meetings. He highlighted that his party bears the brunt of political violence and yet, they still preach peace and do not incite their supporters to retaliate. Mapanda added that political parties should critically look at their manifestos which sometimes perpetuate intolerance of divergent views, dehumanize and incite violence.
Blessing Nyamaropa noted that incidents of electoral violence undermine the foundational elements of democracy such as choice, civic participation, accountability and rule of law. Voters may be intimidated and reluctant to participate in electoral processes and lose confidence and trust in relevant state institutions because of fear of political violence. Breadwinners are lost, people are injured and cannot provide for their families, and this affects the health delivery systems where taxpayer money is used to treat victims of violence.
Asked what mechanism the political parties have put in place to ensure that they respond to and address issues of political violence, the MDC A representative noted that their party has conducted workshops for political activists from 2019 to date focusing on rational disputation. He reported that they have also trained media houses on election reporting, after observing that it is the media that often incites violence due to their partisan reporting. All political parties’ representatives also spoke of their legal frameworks that seek to protect their constituencies against violence, particularly women, young people and those with disabilities.
When the discussion was opened to the floor, participants agreed that political violence is a cancer that needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. It was suggested that all political parties should keep a scorecard quoting what political leaders say to ensure that there have a record of their words which can be used to make them accountable in cases where their messages incite violence. Other participants noted that violence is not only a physical act but a mental dispensation that eventually manifests itself physically.
The meeting recommended that the journey to end violence starts by showing respect for others and divergent views and acceptance that people are strong in their diversity; there is a need to foster a culture of tolerance and each political party should have an internal Code of Conduct that prohibits the use of abusive language and acts of violence in whatever form.
The virtual meeting was a great success as it fulfilled the objective of gathering views and opinions on the current political environment for elections as it relates to violence. The meeting attracted more than 75 participants on the ZOOM platform where it was hosted and live-streamed on the ZESN Facebook page where it reached 13 900 people.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network