LAST week President Robert Mugabe hinted at the possibility of holding a referendum and harmonised elections -- set for November this year and March next year respectively.
Logistically, the timing of the elections is impossible given a number of fundamental issues that need time, resources, commitment and the political will to ensure that these elections are conducted in an environment that promotes democracy.
Zimbabwe has always had periodic elections as provided for in its statutes. Nonetheless, these elections have been characterised by allegations of electoral fraud, violence and a contestation of the outcome, both locally and internationally, resulting in questions around the legitimacy of the government.
The 2008 Presidential elections were inconclusive hence the subsequent birth of the Government of National Unity (GNU). Sadc has also shown its desire to see the full implementation of the GPA and the finalisation of the constitution-making process.
South Africa as the facilitator and negotiator of the GPA has also voiced its support for the full implementation of the GPA processes with the current South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, earlier this year suggesting that elections in Zimbabwe would only be held after the finalisation of the constitution-making process.
Zimbabweans still carry vivid memories of the last elections. Citizens still remember the extensive and systematic political violence that claimed lives and a media that spewed hate speech.
Others still remember the elections were mismanaged. The March 2008 elections saw unprecedented delays in the announcement of the results, reinforcing the idea that the entire process of election management has been characterised by lack of transparency and accountability.
The voter's roll has also presented another challenge in ensuring the conduct of free, fair and democratic elections in Zimbabwe.
A 2011 audit of the voters' roll by ZESN which tested for the accuracy, currency and completeness revealed a number of imperfections; 27% of entries in the voters' roll constitute dead voters, 41% of voters no longer reside at the address in the voters' roll while 97% of the respondents had changed residential status, something that was not reflected.
The above mentioned problems and others that have not been explored here, make it imperative that a solid foundation for the creation of an enabling electoral environment be established before any elections can be held.
ZESN believes that elections must not be called for before substantive electoral reforms take place.
This includes the reforming of repressive legislation such as Posa and Aippa that hinder on respect and upholding of fundamental freedoms (freedom of movement, association, expression and assembly).
In addition, there is need to ensure that Presidential Powers are removed in respect of elections. Another critical issue is an end to violence and intimidation, in particular the dismantling of all structures of violence in all communities.
With the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference scheduled for mid to end of October, there is need for adequate publicising of the draft constitution to ensure that the electorate is well informed about the document before they vote for or against it.
There is also the issue of the Referendum Act which needs to be examined to see whether it is still an appropriate legal instrument that can give the citizens of this country an unencumbered platform for direct participation in decision-making on critical questions of the day that entirely affect current and future generations of this country.
Given the issues that were raised earlier on in this article regarding the problems that were observed in relation to the management of elections in previous years, specifically in 2008, there is need for a truly independent Electoral Commission, fully responsible for all electoral-related activities, accountable to the people through Parliament.
Thus, ZEC should be in charge of inviting and accrediting observers (local, regional and international). In addition, ZEC should be provided with adequate resources drawn from a consolidated fund for running elections including preparation, voter education and voter registration.
ZEC should also be open and communicate timeously with the public and other stakeholders and ensure that they earn the electorate's confidence, way before elections are conducted. Apparently, ZEC has not been given a budget to start preparations for these elections.
On the issue of observers (international, regional and local), these should be invited early to enable deployment, three months before and one month after the elections. This is recommended again against a background of violence which in Zimbabwe happens mostly before polling day and after polling, as witnessed in the previous elections.
Thus preliminary assessment teams should be allowed access now to assess the political environment and to do a post-election follow-up, hence the need for observers to be invited and accredited on time and decentralisation of accreditation.
Previously we have noted the cherry-picking of observers and this again should be avoided. ZEC should be mandated to invite observers and give them full access to all electoral processes especially in the rural areas, as well as to ensure that their (observers) security is guaranteed by the state. In addition, clear guidelines for the observers should be drawn up by the management body in consultation with its key stakeholders.
In order to instill confidence in the electorate with regards to the management of elections, there is need for proper mechanisms that would ensure transparency in all processes including printing, distribution of ballot papers, processing of special votes, postal votes and results management. One cannot ignore the need for a timely announcement of results within the confines of the law and punitive measures to be enforced for non-compliance. In addition, timely dispute resolution mechanisms including the speedy resolution of election-related litigation should also be put in place.
With a vision of improving future elections, failure to implement any significant reforms will have damning effects on peace and security in Zimbabwe and the region at large. -- Zimbabwe Election Support Network