Legal and Parliamentary Affiars Politics

Zimbabwe ready for change: Chamisa

Nelson Chamisa

Zimbabwe is ready for the fulfilment of the message of change that we have been preaching for a long time, MDC President Advocate Nelson Chamisa has said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the people of Zimbabwe are ready to give us the mandate to lead the country to prosperity. We are ready and willing. However, and regrettably, certain forces that are inimical to progress and reform are standing in the way of the people of this country. This is not new but it cannot be allowed to defeat the will of the people,” Chamisa said Wednesday.

The young and charismatic leader said an inclusive, free, fair and credible election is the only route to legitimacy, which Zimbabwe desperately needs. Without legitimacy and stability, there can be no economic recovery, let alone progress in this country, he said.

“But, as I have already said, certain forces are threatening the attainment of that legitimacy and much required stability. The fulcrum of a free, fair and credible election is the referee. Our referee is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). The referee must not only be fair but it must be seen to be fair. We have serious concerns over the conduct of our referee which we believe is acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the standards of fair play.

“The practice of democracy requires that citizens are afforded a free, fair, credible and legitimate process of electing their leaders. Over the past two decades Zimbabwe has gone through a series of disputed elections that have plunged the country into a persistent crisis of legitimacy.”

Zimbabwean people are yearning for a fresh start, a new beginning and have a renewed hope and faith in the potential of their country. They want to move forward towards transformation, opportunities and prosperity.

Chamisa said the current government which took over from former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017 did so under the pretext that it was going to ensure a free, fair and credible election in 2018. He reminded people that the country is currently witnessing a regime that simply talks but does not intend to hold credible elections. Although the election is going to be violent free, there is fear of an illegitimate election.

The Zimbabwe constitution in s156 on the conduct of elections and referendums states that:

At every election and referendum, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must ensure that-

(a) whatever voting method is used, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent;

(c) appropriate systems and mechanisms are put in place-

(i) to eliminate electoral violence and other electoral malpractices; and

(ii) to ensure the safekeeping of electoral materials.

The supreme law clearly envisages a verifiable, secure and transparent election. Chamisa said no one can therefore deny Zimbabweans this entrenched right.

Because of the history of manipulated elections in Zimbabwe, the crisis of credible elections is born out of the mistrust between the government and the people which can only be cured if ZEC and government conducts electoral processes in the utmost transparent manner.

“The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which is constitutionally charged with the administration of elections has shown that it is either incapable or unwilling to provide Zimbabweans with a verifiable, secure and transparent election as required by our law and international standards governing democratic elections.”

Chamisa highlighted an insensitive disregard for the principles of transparency. Among other very pertinent issues were;

1. ZEC has refused to provide stakeholders with a proper Voters’ Roll as compiled and required by the Electoral Act.

2. ZEC has refused parties an opportunity to observe the printing of ballot papers and proceeded to print without the knowledge and input of stakeholders.

3ZEC has not put in place mechanisms for joint storage of the printed ballots in a secure manner.

4. ZEC has not put in place mechanisms of transparent distribution of printed ballot papers.

5.ZEC has allowed the state media to run a smear campaign against opposition candidates.

The Constitution is very clear in section 155 that a candidate must “have reasonable access to all material and information necessary for them to participate effectively”. These materials include the voters roll in its final form and the process of printing ballot papers. ZEC has so far failed to meet these requirements.

Furthermore, section 156 makes it clear that ZEC must ensure that “whatever voting method is used, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent”. We do not believe ZEC has put in place measures to fulfil this obligation, particularly regarding verification, security and transparency of materials used in the election.

The MDC said it is not demanding new rights or new laws but that existing laws and rights be given full effect. In that regard, ZEC should be working hard to satisfy contestants, instead of ridiculing them by casting aspersions and suggesting that demands are trivial.

It is constitutional for any citizen or candidate to request any information. s62(1) of the constitution – everyone has a right to access information held by the state which information is needed for the exercise of a right

One great concern is over the state of the voters roll. The process of getting the voters roll as required by law has been as painful and excruciating as extracting a tooth.

“What we got, late and after pressure, was not consistent with the law. When we push ZEC, it is not because we are being difficult, no. It is because there is a well-known record of non-compliance by ZEC and the State generally. Need we remind everyone that only 5 years ago, ZEC utterly failed to provide the voters roll. This time we have been vigilant and persistent and we will continue to do so.

“But even what we got from ZEC falls short of a credible voters roll. We have said so before and repeat it today, with more emphasis. There are many problems with it, including multiple registrations, wrong names and addresses of voters and serious inconsistencies.
In our view, the voters roll is not fit for purpose. It is not legally compliant and cannot credibly be used as a record to conduct the voting process. It is the document which is used to determine who can or cannot vote and we are not convinced that in its current state it can fulfil that purpose and still lead to a legitimate outcome.”

Chamisa bemoaned the fact that instead of undertaking to correct the numerous errors and inconsistencies in the voters roll, ZEC has chosen to adopt an arrogant and nonchalant approach which demonstrates that it takes Zimbabweans for granted. Instead of promising to correct problems in the voters roll before the election, the ZEC Chairperson sought to downplay the anomalies, as if it is not necessary to correct them. They were aware of the problems and tried to pre-empt challenges before the election.

Another critical issue of concern, and red line relates to ballot papers. The MDC has long argued that there must be fairness and transparency over the printing and distribution of ballot papers. ZEC has again fallen short on this point, making it impossible to ensure there is fairness and transparency.

“Fully cognisant of the fact that it is a function of ZEC to design, print and distribute ballot papers in terms of s239 (g) of the Constitution. That function must not be exercised to the negation and invalidation of the inherent fundamental rights of citizens and election candidates to be involved in a fair and transparent process. (see section 62(1); 67(1) & (3) (a); and (b);155 & 156 of the Constitution).

Their promises have been false, designed to cheat and deceive only to create a false impression of compliance when there is none. This practice of box-ticking is mere tokenism which hoodwinks no one if not only a few. Creating a facade of compliance cannot and will confer legitimacy on this election process.”

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende