Free and Fair Elections?


Since 2010, RAU has been pointing out that the most important matter to be resolved ahead of any future elections is the reform of national institutions. This position has been repeatedly supported by SAPES and the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform. SADC, both through the Troika and the Summit, has also insisted on the deep message beneath the GPA: constitution AND reforms, then elections. Most recently, President Jacob Zuma himself has pointed out the need for urgent action ahead. Speaking at the recent meeting in Pretoria of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence, and Security, Zuma made the following points:

  • “Security sector realignment cannot be postponed any longer”;
  • “In this regard Jomic needs to be activated as a matter of priority”;
    “The facilitation team supplemented by the representatives of Tanzania and Zambia must be enabled to participate actively in Jomic”;
  • “Namibia as a member and incoming chair of troika should now be included” ;
  • “Without the above two points it will be difficult to ensure that there is no intimidation and that violence is not allowed to escalate, if and when it occurs.”

So, when the President and the Minister of Justice are quoted as saying that elections will be held by 29th June, and in the shenanigans around the continued detention of Beatrice Mtetwa and the 4 MDC officials and repeated harassment of NGOs, the total absence of reforms is now critical. The kinds of reforms now needed must be realistic and effective, for there is no longer time for the kind of wishful thinking that has characterized most calls for reform by Zimbabwean political parties and civil society bodies.

As we pointed out recently and several times previously, there are four key areas of reform that can change the electoral playing field[1]:

Firstly, the security sector needs oversight, what some have termed Security Sector Governance as opposed to Security Sector Reform. The latter is a decade-long process, while the former merely requires strong civilian oversight of the uniformed services and the intelligence agencies. This achieved in two ways: appointments of the senior officials through full consensus by all political parties, and a wholly civilian oversight body – in Zimbabwe’s case, agreement between the President and the Prime Minister of the appointments to the army, the police, the prisons, and the intelligence service, the disbanding of JOC, and a wholly civilian National Security Council.

Secondly, ensure that all state institutions adhere completely to their enabling legislation. The police are not allowed to be members of political parties or participate in political activities, and shall carry out their duties in a wholly non-partisan manner. Traditional leaders – chiefs, headmen, and village heads – are not allowed to be politically partisan, and must report all crimes in their areas of jurisdiction, without exception, to the police.

Thirdly, the Office of the Attorney-General (and the Attorney-General) must be completely non-partisan. The Attorney-General should be appointed with the agreement of both the President and the Prime Minister.

Fourthly, the state media – television, radio, and the press – shall be regulated by an independent body for instances of bias and the propagation of hate speech. Reform of the state media will a lengthy process, and, thus, in the short term all that is feasible is that there is an effective stop to all political bias and hate speech.

Add to this President Zuma’s latest comment that SADC observers need to be deployed well in advance of the election – now actually if the statements by the President and the Minister of Justice are to be taken seriously.

All of this will be difficult to achieve, but not impossible, but the big question is what to do if there is no credible attempt at reform. There can be only one position, that responsible political parties should not dignify flawed elections by participation. Actually, this should be their position right now. Whatever the constitution says, either the old or the new, adherence to minimal legalism will not solve the Zimbabwe crisis or bring legitimacy to the state if elections are a farce, and elections are farcical if citizens cannot speak, assemble, associate, and vote in complete freedom.

South Africa and SADC seem to see this quite clearly, but do Zimbabwean political parties. So, no reforms, no elections must be the call by all!

written by

Tony Reeler


[1] RAU (2012), On Restoring National Institutions and Elections. The Governance Programme. March 2012. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT; Reeler, A. P (2013), Of Camels, Constitutions, and Elections. February 2013. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

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