Highlights of the All Stakeholders Conference on the Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) in collaboration with the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) and the Parliament of Zimbabwe (POZ) hosted an All Stakeholders Conference in Kariba from Sunday 29 to Monday 30 May 2022 to discuss the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Comprehensive Draft Electoral Amendment Bill. The objective of the conference was to go through the Draft Amendment Bill, clause by clause to ensure the finalization of discussions and input from relevant stakeholders.

At least 90 participants including the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Jacob Francis Mudenda, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hon. Misheck Mataranyika, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Hon. Chido Madiwa; Honourable Members of Parliament; Acting Chairperson for the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Commissioner Dr Golden Chekenyere; Chairperson for the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Commissioner Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe; Deputy Secretary for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Mr. Erick Mukutiri; The Executive Secretary of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Mr. Edward Mapara; The Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Ms. Rose Hanzi; Chapter 12 Institutions as well as CSOs attended the conference.

The Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Mr Andrew Makoni outlined the objectives of the conference and cited how the process of developing a comprehensive electoral bill by ZESN had commenced in 2019 following a mandate given to ZESN by the Hon Speaker of Parliament. He stated that the main function of the conference was to read the Bill, discuss it, assess the challenges and probably agree on the way forward.

In his keynote address, The Speaker of Parliament of Zimbabwe, Honourable Advocate Jacob Mudenda said the Conference was convened in accordance with the constitutional dictates that Parliament is there to make laws for peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe as provided for in Section 117 (2) (b) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe with the objective of refining the Electoral Law in order to achieve peace, order and good governance in the context of Zimbabwe’s political electoral processes, more so as the nation beckon the 2023 harmonized elections. He added that the Conference was held to marry our electoral law with the constitutional values and democratic principles provided for in Section 3 (2) as read together with sections 155, 156 and 157 of the Constitution.

Honorable Advocate Mudenda highlighted the need to come up with a robust electoral law whose legal vigour and vitality should stand the test of time in ensuring that Zimbabwean elections, at any given time; are peaceful, free, fair and credible. He noted that electoral law should respect gender equality, inclusion and all other rights as elections are also a human rights issue as well as have the integrity of its purpose and intent.

Hon. Adv Mudenda acknowledged ZESN for the sterling effort of coming up with the election petition which eventually led to the crafting of the Draft Electoral Bill. He emphasized on the need adhere to the electoral law as provided for in Section 157 (4) of the Constitution which provides that: “No amendments may be made to the Electoral Law, or to any subsidiary legislation made under that law, unless the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been consulted and any recommendations made by the Commission have been duly considered”. The Honourable Speaker of Parliament directed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee to see to it that it conducts oral sessions with the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and ZEC to consider the proposals discussed at the All Stakeholders Conference.

Further the Conference also deliberated on the registration of political parties; adherence to code of conduct; protection of the secrecy of the ballot and provisions on assisted voters; stipulating timelines for adjudication electoral disputes and conformity with constitutional provisions as well as regional standards; provisions for postal, special and external voting; provisions for mechanisms for filling of vacancies among party lists members; provisions for mechanisms to operationalize youth seats in the National Assembly, women and men in Local Authorities; provisions for inclusion for persons with disabilities; provisions for prohibited political conduct during poll, disqualification of candidates for electoral malpractices, contravention of the Code; provisions for media additional measures for media coverage of elections and access to information and provisions for additional measures pertaining to Electoral Courts, filing, timing and appeals of election petitions.

Dr. James Tsabora facilitated plenary discussion sessions; there was no consensus on a few provisions, chiefly among them the regulation of political parties. The house agreed on the registration of political parties for the purposes of the Electoral Act and there were suggestions for creating a separate independent body if need be. There was also no consensus with respect to the composition of the Observers Accreditation Committee. It was, however, agreed that in as much as ZEC independence is fundamental, there is a need to consider other issues/things in the current Section 40H of the current Act. It was suggested that the Electoral Bill include a provision requiring the losing presidential contender (s) to concede defeat as soon as the results are announced. This suggestion remained contentious.

Participants agreed on the need to entrench gender equality safeguards in the Bill to enhance women participation in all electoral processes. The house was also in unison with respect to ensure that the Bill does enhance the transparency of Zimbabwe’s electoral processes through consultation with stakeholders such as political parties and voters. A few changes in the Bill were put forward in order to enhance transparency of the electoral processes. Stakeholders also came to an agreement on shortening procedural timelines to ensure that the ZEC and other stakeholders have enough time, while also ensuring that the timelines do not prejudice the outcomes or public perceptions.

On the way forward, Hon Advocate J.F.N Mudenda, Speaker of Parliament commended ZESN and other CSOs for demonstrating an instructive example that one need not criticize without offering or presenting an alternative. He challenged ZESN to share such an example with other CSOs. He further stated that Parliament takes CSOs and public petitions seriously. He reinforced the importance of independent commissions (Chapter 12 Institutions) in providing checks and balances in the governance matrix.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Misheck Mataranyika gave the vote of thanks to officially end the Conference. He stated that it came out clear that there is a need to align the Electoral Laws to the Constitution on issues of gender parity, rights of persons with disabilities and youth representation in electoral processes. Hon Mataranyika also remarked that Zimbabwe has had electoral disputes in the previous elections hence the rationale for stakeholder convergence to come up with ways of minimizing election disputes. He closed by thanking participants including the Members of Parliament for participating effectively in the proceedings.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)

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