The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is set to undergo a major facelift with its chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba and fellow commissioners expected to be forced out by 2021 just in time for a neutral team to run the 2023 general elections, if the on-going Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) members get their way.
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader Lovemore Madhuku, who is part of Polad, told NewsDay that Chigumba will not run the 2023 general elections, saying the entire commission will pack its bags by 2021.
“She (Justice Chigumba) will not be there in 2023, you can get it from us, she was appointed, she will have to resign or somewhat compensated, but 2023 elections will not be run by a chairperson who was appointed by the President. In the 2023 elections, the whole commission will be appointed by a body of politicians who are players. That is the reform that we want. We actually want the Constitution to be amended. To have a conference of political actors to endorse the commission,” Madhuku said.
The Nelson Chamisa-led MDC, among other civic organisations, has accused Zec of being partisan and aiding Zanu PF in elections, especially its handling of the designing and printing of ballot papers, allocation of polling stations and management of the voters roll.
Madhuku said Polad was concerned about Zec and was, therefore, moving to flush out problematic areas in the electoral management body.
“The second thing to change is to ensure that Zec is not only independent, but has to be seen to be independent so we are going to be changing the appointment process, the chairperson of the Zec must not be appointed by the President or the President in consultation with so and so; no, no, no,” Madhuku said.
“That person must be approved by a platform of political actors, so Polad is going to appoint the chairperson of the electoral commission of the 2023 elections; that will be a massive change. For you to be chairperson of Zec, you must get the buy-in of Polad and that is one of the reforms that we are going to put. The President can appoint all the other things, but not the people who run elections, that was the mistake of 2018.”
Inside Zec is the all-powerful logistics committee and a number of alleged former securocrats accused of pulling the strings in favour of Zanu PF, a party with strong military links. Madhuku said that committee will also be flushed out.
“We are not worried about the security actors in Zec, they will all be removed, that is what Polad is all about. There are people who think Polad is a play field and it has no teeth, they will see that Polad has teeth. We are going to remove the entire thing, for the 2023 elections you must enjoy the confidence of Polad, including those who will come in wanting to contest the 2023 elections and this must be in place by 2021. We must actually have in place a new Zec,” he said.
While opposition parties have been blamed for sitting on their laurels and failing to push for electoral reforms only to raise their heads on the eve of the polls, Madhuku said between now and the next election, there must be work to ensure that the next election is free and peaceful.
Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (Zesn), which has since petitioned Parliament for electoral reforms, has also developed a tracker which will note all reforms, particularly those raised in line with recommendations made by electoral observer missions who observed the 2018 general elections.
Key among the recommendations captured by Zesn in a compendium of 100 recommendations is the transmission of results, fair media coverage and electoral malpractices.
Madhuku said all this will be dealt with as Polad moves to reform State-controlled media and public broadcasters.
“We want to have an environment where everyone has access to the public media, access to radio, access to ZTV because they are the most widespread, that must be done. In the last election, if you were not a Zanu PF candidate you got a maximum of a stage-managed interview where the ZBC interviewers would try to downgrade you as a politician, whereas the other player who is the President ED would be on television every day, that is the first thing to change.”
Chamisa’s MDC is pushing for demonstrations and diplomatic pressure on Zanu PF and government with the hope of ousting Mnangagwa before 2023 and replacing him with a transitional government that can wring in real reforms, but Polad is opposed to this move, saying only elections matter. “Look, they (Zanu PF) have no clue, but we have no legal standing ourselves to remove them because people are put in place by the electorate, all we can do is facilitate the holding of the next election under different conditions. You cannot use the streets to remove the government of the day, in the same way you cannot use the military to remove the government of the day. The government of the day will have to be removed through a free, fair and legitimate election,” he said.
Zanu PF representative at Polad and politburo member Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana said his party was unaware of any push to fire Zec commissioners or reform the commission.
“I am not aware of any meeting that such an item was on the agenda. I have lots of respect for Professor Madhuku, but we have never had that issue on the agenda. If Zanu PF wants to reform Zec, it will certainly not discuss that with the media,” Mangwana said.