Electoral reform public hearings- KE NAKO! Towards increased citizen consultation- a milestone in fulfilling the social contract

When the FIFA world cup finally came to South Africa, the African continent received it with joy. The time for Africa had come and the show organisers aptly coined a buzzword for its heralded arrival; KE NAKO! IT IS TIME!

The Election Resource Centre (ERC), along with 16 other Civil Society Organisations on 22 September 2015, submitted a petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe demanding comprehensive electoral reforms. The Petition passed through all the necessary and legal stages in Parliament, but for some reason, could not be availed for public input. This is despite the fact that parliament was conducting public hearings on other pertinent issues.  Finally, with enough pressure, public hearings on electoral reform petition are here. Suffice to say, KE NAKO! IT IS TIME!

Why electoral reforms? Electoral reforms are fundamental in levelling the electoral playing field thereby affording candidates, equal chances and citizens an unassailable choice to exercise their right. This is all in a bid to fulfil the social contract as stipulated in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. While there has been some movement in electoral reforms, they fall far short of addressing the major challenges bedevilling the elections framework in Zimbabwe.

Previous articles have stated the case for electoral reforms, clearly articulating what needs reform. However, for the benefit of a new reader a summary will suffice. Electoral reforms are necessary in three realms, the legislative, the administrative, and the political/environmental. Importantly, the petition submitted to parliament outlined eight cases in need of urgent reform for a free, fair, and credible election. These are;

  1. Enhancing the Independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
  2. Reviewing all legislation that negatively impacts on the Political Environment, hence on the electoral process and its outcomes.
  3. Reviewing provisions relating to Voters Registration and the Voters’ Roll to ensure they enhance the credibility of Zimbabwean elections.
  4. Enhancing Voter Education by creating more space for stakeholders other than ZEC.
  5. Extending the franchise and the Right to Vote to all citizens of Zimbabwe, wherever they may be.
  6. Reconstituting the Electoral Court in compliance with the Constitution.
  7. Ensuring that the invitation of Election observers is an exclusive function of the body entrusted with the conduct of the polls.
  8. Enhancing the role of ZEC in electoral boundary Delimitation.

Fundamental to achieving these reforms is political will to reform through alignment of the Electoral Act to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, removing excessive executive influence on the operations of ZEC and addressing the political environment relating to conduct of elections.

When expectations of citizens evolve faster than the institutions and vice versa, a democratic deficit erupts. When citizens are side lined in policymaking and reform, it defeats the basis of the social contract and maligns democratic tenets. Public hearings on the petition on electoral reforms are indeed a means to an end. Citizens must grab the opportunity with both hands and have their voice recorded in this history making process.

The decision by Parliament of Zimbabwe to take the petition to the public is commendable. It cements the role of citizens in electoral reform, two years before the election in 2018. It is incumbent upon the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs to guarantee that citizen voices are recorded without tempering and reflected in the committee report. More importantly, the Parliament of Zimbabwe should uphold the outcome of the public hearings and institute comprehensive electoral reforms through alignment of the Electoral Act. The august body cannot afford to ignore the views of the public.

Public hearings on their own, satisfy the demands of Sections 139 (f) and (3) and 141 (a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe calling for the right of the public to petition Parliament and that Parliament must facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes and in the processes of its committees. If this mandate is fulfilled, then what? How can citizens keep the eye on the ball?

  • Call your Member of Parliament– citizens must put pressure on the representatives to put pressure on them to act on the recommendations of the portfolio committee
  • Participate in other platforms seeking electoral reform
  • Be the change you want see– engage electoral authorities and seek the reform you want to see
  • Take them to court– citizens can and must litigate for improved electoral framework, alignment of laws and independence of ZEC

Yes its time, KE NAKO! It is citizen’s time. Let us not just talk electoral reform but walk it.

The ERC invites articles or opinion papers on electoral and democracy matters from interested individuals for prospective publishing in this column. The requested submissions must be of less than 800 words in length. For submission and feedback, please contact information@erczim.org

[1] Veritas; Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI); Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA);   Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU); Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA); Nhimbe Trust, South Western Region Gender Network; Women’s Institute for Leadership; Plumtree Development Trust; Mission to Live Trust; Habakkuk Trust, Zimbabwe Chamber for Informal Economy Association (ZCIEA); Public Policy Research Institute of Zimbabwe (PRIZ); Makokoba Development Trust (MDT); Rural Communities Empowerment Trust (RUCET) and Abammeli Human Rights Trust)

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