When South Africa was faced with the problems of negotiating its transition by an election in 1994, it produced an extremely important mechanism to ensure that the election would be free and fair, and that the overwhelming power of the South African state (dominated by the National Party) could not be used to the advantage of the government in power. It did this by creating a Transitional Executive Council, a body that would exercise some of the delegated powers of the government and Parliament. This was a highly successful innovation that, in fact, was crucial to South Africa holding a wholly valid election, and moving safely to a change of regime. The TEC idea has considerable merit for Zimbabwe presently.
Consider the objects of the TEC:
(a) creating and promoting a climate for free political participation by endeavouring to:
(i) eliminate any impediments to legitimate political activities;
(ii) eliminate any form of intimidation which has a bearing on the said transition;
(iii) ensure that all political parties are free to canvass support from voters, to organize and hold meetings and to have access to all voters for the purposes thereof;
(iv) ensure the full participation of women in the transitional and electoral structures and processes; and
(v) ensure that no Government or administration exercises any of its powers in such a way as to advantage or prejudice any political party;
(b) creating and promoting conditions conducive to the holding of free and fair elections;
Now the whole object of passing the Transitional Executive Council Act in 1993 was specifically to overcome similar problems to those currently faced by Zimbabwe. This highly innovative and courageous solution to the polarization in South Africa needs investigation by Zimbabweans.
Zimbabwe currently has a security sector blatantly (and illegally) expressing affiliation to apolitical party; the whole administrative apparatus (civil servants, local government officials, traditional leaders, etc.) of the state also affiliated to one political party; and finally the (mostly) discredited electoral machinery under the control of one political party. These are hardly the conditions under which a genuine, democratic election can take place, and this is the litany continuously and loudly proclaimed by political parties and civil society.
But how to then change this situation in the rapidly closing space ahead of the elections? Certainly there is insufficient time for legislative reform: there was barely enough time to pass the amendments to the Electoral Act, although this now seems remedied by Presidential decree. And it is certainly the case that both political parties and civil society generally has paid far too much time to the constitutional process and too little time to the process of reform. There have been many opportunities for the two MDCs to engage the crucial matters around reform, but this is not the place to recollect the missed opportunities. There has been a great opportunity under the GPA for civil society to re-position itself again as the watchdogs over the Inclusive Government, but this too has been largely lost.
This may all be water under the bridge with elections now slated for 31st July, but what was needed is for the political parties to agree that, taking a leaf out of the South African book, there is need to create the appropriate oversight bodies to ensure that the elections conform to the SADC Principles and Guidelines for the Holding of Democratic Elections. As was the case in South Africa, the government needed to create a Transitional Executive Council, and the requisite number of sub-Councils) to oversee the process.
This, of course, requires the political will to delegate much of the powers of the Government and the Presidency to a new body, but this is what was done for the South African elections in 1994, and the world acclaimed both the process and the wisdom of the political leaders: Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
How would this work in practice?
By Act of Parliament, an overall body would have been established to run the country up until the results were announced. This body would have been composed of representatives of all political parties, and it, in turn, would have established the sub-bodies to provide oversight of the electoral process. This needed not to be as comprehensive as was the case in South Africa where a large number of sub-councils were established: law and order, stability and security, defence, intelligence, foreign affairs, status of women, finance, and regional and local government and traditional authorities.
For Zimbabwe, only four key sub-councils would have been necessary: security sector (police, army and intelligence), media, local government, and traditional leaders. These would have been sufficient to ensure that the partisanship seen in all these areas was at least minimized. All Zimbabweans know that these are the critical institutions that allow or disallow free democratic activity, and, if constrained from being partisan, they could create the conditions for the kinds of poll that all Zimbabweans dream of. That Zimbabweans dream of freely and fairly voting is so evident from the recent referendum: that one million more voters turned out than in the previous elections in 2008 not only points out how many are currently disenfranchised, but also shows how keen Zimbabwean citizens are to participate in the political life of the country.
Could Zimbabweans ask for any less than this in our extremely vexed and polarized position? Could SADC ask for less in the light of their continual demand for reform? Will the President take this final opportunity to leave the legacy of an election that all can be proud of? Perhaps then we can have an election where, whichever party wins, the citizens can move into to the future knowing that they have freely elected the government of their choice?
However, another opportunity has been lost, and once again democracy is likely to be the loser in Zimbabwe.
 For a copy of the Transitional Executive Council Act, see the Southern African Legal Information Institute. ]http://www.saflii.org/za/legis/num_act/teca1993336/]