15 February 2013

Zimbabwe: ZEC Integrity Still Doubtful

editorial

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Retired Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe's resignation this week - officially on health grounds amid reports he had been forced out by Zanu PF - compounds the severe credibility deficit bedevilling the controversial electoral body ahead of the referendum on the draft constitution and general elections.

Zec's role in the electoral system is central and critical so its credibility must be solid and unassailable. Elections run by a body perceived as partisan and lacking integrity cannot produce credible outcomes respected by the contestants and voters.

In fact, they create a legitimacy crisis for those claiming victory. Without the consent of the governed, rulers effectively become dictators imposing themselves on the people against popular will. Their mandate would simply be illegitimate and thus open to challenge in the courts and the streets.

In this connection, the last thing Zimbabwe- still struggling to resolve a decade-long political stalemate which triggered serious economic problems - needs is another disputed election, but as matters stand the country is hurtling down that familiar path.

While government officials say the referendum is in March and elections in July, the reality is that the political situation and electoral environment has not significantly changed.

Zec is still the same organisationally, structurally and administratively. It is still staffed by the same officials who in 2008 spent five weeks withholding results of the first round of the presidential election which President Robert Mugabe had lost.

Their credibility took a knock as a result of that, especially after the presidential election run-off which was marred by violence, intimidation and all sorts of irregularities which forced Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to drop out of the race, leaving Mugabe to claim a dubious victory.

While officially it is said Mutambanengwe resigned on health grounds, we have information to show he was pressured to go by Zanu PF officials who never wanted him because he is perceived as opposed to the party's policies and had unfinished business with the current leadership dating back to the liberation struggle.

He may well have been ailing, but political pressure was brought to bear on him to quit. This has serious implications for Zec's standing and conducting of the next elections.

The constitution requires that Zec commissioners be chosen for their integrity, experience and competence in the conduct of affairs in the public or private sector. However, while Zec has some people of high moral, academic and professional standing, it is also staffed with personnel with security backgrounds.

In other words, those who worked for the security forces - police, CIO or the military.

That is why the issue of Zec was subject to party political negotiations for some time.

The issue of the secretariat and staffing was debated, but there was no solution.

The MDC parties wanted new staff appointed, but Zanu PF refused in the way it opposed security sector reform. This is a recipe for yet another disputed poll.

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