8 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Referendum ZEC Test Case

editorial

ZIMBABWEANS are expected to vote in a constitutional referendum next week on Saturday to adopt Copac's flawed draft constitution in an event which would be a test case of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) preparedness ahead of crucial general elections in July or later this year.

Zec was established in 2005 and later that year a constitutional amendment was passed which, among other things, abolished the Electoral Supervisory Commission and institutionalised the new entity as a constitutional body.

Zec's main function is to "prepare for, conduct and supervise elections and referenda and to ensure they are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law".

The referendum -- a curtain raiser before the watershed elections -- is a litmus test for Zec.

While Global Political Agreement principals managed to resolve all outstanding issues on the new draft constitution, clearing the path for the referendum, new problems have arisen mainly relating to financial, logistical, legal and technical issues.

Zec had initially drawn a budget of US$220 million for the referendum and elections, but the amount was later revised downwards to US$192 million after the scrapping of the delimitation of constituencies.

ZEC now says at least US$85 million is needed for the referendum, while elections would require US$107 million. Government is scrounging US$250 million for the referendum and elections.

After United Nations Development Programme recently said it would take long to release funds to Zimbabwe due to bureaucratic procedures, government approached private sector companies to look for money.

Although some companies have contributed, the reality is government is struggling to finance the referendum and elections.

As things stand, Zec is struggling to put together preparations for the referendum largely because it was not given enough resources and sufficient time.

That is besides its own lack of capacity and instability shown by the quitting of its chairman retired Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe who was replaced with Justice Rita Makarau whose appointment some stakeholders say was unprocedural as it did not follow due process.

Zec is currently under immense pressure to perform because if it bungles the referendum before elections its credibility would be in tatters.

The referendum is a major test of competency and credibility for Zec whose image was thoroughly damaged during the 2008 general elections after it spent five weeks holding onto the results of the first round of the presidential poll which President Robert Mugabe had lost.

Zec also had problems with parliamentary election results in some constituencies, besides running Mugabe's one-man charade during the June presidential election runoff.

Given all this, Zec must successfully run the referendum to gain experience and establish its credibility as an independent and impartial body.

If it botches the referendum that will affect its integrity and reflect adversely on its capacity to competently handle its next big test -- elections.

Already it is facing problems of hiring of polling staff, dealing with postal votes, ensuring transparency on processes and how to count votes and communicate results, among other things.

The referendum date was rushed because principals are now short-circuiting processes to stampede the nation to elections, without realising this might cause serious chaos and disputed results.

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