SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Zanu-PF Forced to Retreat On Electoral Bill

The ZANU PF administration has climbed down and adjourned the Second Reading of the disputed Electoral Amendment Bill, to allow for more consultations.

The planned legislation was put on hold Thursday and will now be superseded by a consultative exercise after democracy activists kicked up a storm last week.

According to ZANU PF Justice Minister Emmerson Mngangagwa, this has been done so that new ideas from the MDC-T and interested groups can be considered.

ZANU PF authorities succeeded in rushing the Electoral Bill through the Upper House last week despite strong protests from MDC-T Senators and civil society groups over the exclusion of Zimbabweans from the law-making process.

The protesters accused the ZANU PF government of trying to conduct cosmetic electoral reforms which will not improve the management of future elections.

The opposition and civil society groups also say if allowed to become law, the proposed law will be as undemocratic as the legislation it seeks to supplant.

Major areas of concern include the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) which would remain under the ZANU PF-run justice ministry.

The Bill also doesn't give eligible Zimbabweans based abroad, or those in hospital and prison, their constitutional right to vote.

In addition, the protesters want electoral management body ZEC to have overall authority and control of the voters roll, which ZANU PF has been controlling through another partisan institution, the Registrar-General's Office.

Women's groups also say they want the Bill to make it easy for their members to participate in politics, by providing for leaders of women's wings within political parties to sign nomination papers for female candidates.

Poll monitors the Election Resource Centre, one of three civil society groups which petitioned parliament over the Bill, hailed the State's retreat as a victory.

In an interview with this station the group's director Tawanda Chimhini thanked opposition legislators who pushed Mnangagwa for the postponement.

"We applaud parliament, the chairperson of the justice portfolio committee and the justice minister for giving Zimbabweans their constitutional space to participate in the law-making process."

Chimhini said civil society groups will now start mobilising Zimbabweans to take part in the public hearings, whose dates are yet to be announced.

"We would like to urge particularly the young people, who tend to be unconcerned about such processes, to see this as a crucial step in the fight for democracy."

On government's sincerity Chimhini said the justice minister has another fight coming if he is using the adjournment to divert public attention in the hope of re-introducing the Bill without changes.

"We will gauge their motives from the manner in which the public hearings will be conducted and whether the views expressed by Zimbabweans at these hearings will be reflected in the final document," Chimnhini added.

Democracy activist Pedzisai Ruhanya urged caution, and said it was unlikely that ZANU PF had agreed to delay the Bill because they wanted to do the right thing by Zimbabweans.

He said the changes that civic groups want to see reflected in the proposed law go to the core of ZANU PF's rigging mechanisms.

"I think the adjournment is just to allow the furore that the unconstitutional Electoral Bill had caused, to die down," Ruhanya told SW Radio Africa Friday.

"The delay will also sit well with ZANU PF's re-engagement of the international community as they want to maintain their rising status especially within the Southern African Development Community.

"ZANU PF's image has been improving since last year's election owing to the semblance of credibility lent to them by SADC who endorsed the flawed poll.

"They want to cling on to this semblance of credibility and exploit it, to re-engage with the international community. They can't therefore risk being seen as reverting to their authoritarian pre-election ways by ignoring protests on electoral matters.

Ruhanya said any lapse by civil society and the opposition would see those aspects of the Bill, that are crucial to ZANU PF's control of the elections, being retained.

"The regime has realised that overt violence does not do its image any favours and as we saw in 2013 they are now investing their energies in institutions that will help them to rig without spilling blood, and these include ZEC and electoral laws."

Ruhanya quoted a Zimbabwe Democracy Institute report, which showed how the ZANU PF regime manipulated the voters roll to tilt voting numbers in their favour.

Another independent think-tank, the Research and Advocacy Unit, make a similar conclusion in their recent report titled 'Numbers out of Tune'.

In their analysis the researchers question the source of an extra one million voters in the 2013 poll who helped give President Robert Mugabe an unassailable 'victory' over the MDC-T's Morgan Tsvangirai.

The researchers concludee that "contrary to the assertions of the new government, the results are not beyond contest. Such contest may not affect the de facto right to govern, but may certainly challenge its de jure status."

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