The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a coalition of 37 non-governmental organisations that promotes democratic elections, has welcomed the proclamation of the 2023 harmonised elections by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, the organisation has also called for more reforms to ensure a credible and fair electoral process.
President Mnangagwa announced the polling date as 23 August 2023, with Nomination Courts set to convene on 21 June to accept applications from political parties and their candidates. These dates serve as crucial milestones leading up to the elections, which will determine the fate of the country’s political and socio-economic future.
In a statement, ZESN commended the government for implementing various electoral reforms, while also highlighting some areas that still require attention.
ZESN acknowledged the government’s efforts in ratifying the African Charter on Democracy, Governance, and Elections (ACDEG), which sets out principles and standards for democratic governance and elections in Africa. The organisation also praised the amendment of the Census and Statistics Act, which facilitated the timely delimitation of electoral boundaries through an accelerated population census. Furthermore, ZESN lauded the recent amendments to the Constitution, which introduced the Youth Quota in the National Assembly and extended the Women’s Quota by ten years in the same assembly.
However, ZESN expressed concerns about the absence of legal reforms for the upcoming elections. According to Section 157(5) of the Constitution, no changes to the Electoral Law or any other election-related legislation can be made once the election has been proclaimed. As a result, the 2023 elections will proceed without these much-needed legal reforms, as the Electoral Law, namely the Electoral Act, remains unchanged.
ZESN also drew attention to the failure of the Electoral Amendment Bill to pass before the proclamation was announced. This failure means that the constitutional provisions regarding the youth quota and proportional representation cannot be applied or implemented in the upcoming elections. Consequently, these provisions will have to wait until 2028 for their implementation.
The organisation also lauded the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for implementing administrative improvements. ZEC now publishes the names of individuals removed from the voter’s roll in the government gazette, ensuring transparency. They have also implemented continuous cleaning of the voter’s roll, allowing for physical and electronic inspection of the roll, as recommended by observer missions. Another positive change is the mandatory review and update of the voter education manual before each election. Moreover, the posting of the voters’ roll outside polling stations has become a standard practice in Zimbabwean elections.
Despite these positive developments, ZESN highlighted several outstanding reforms that it had anticipated to be addressed before the 2023 polls. These include creating a conducive electoral environment that ensures the effective participation of citizens without fear, providing access to the voter’s roll, employing tactile ballot papers to ensure the secrecy of the vote, reviewing accreditation fees and allowing long-term observation by domestic observers. Furthermore, ZESN emphasised the need for punitive measures to address violence affecting women’s participation in politics and elections, as well as the implementation of the constitutional provision of a 50/50 gender representation.
ZESN urged the government and ZEC to expedite the implementation of these reforms to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the 2023 elections. The organisation also called on the political parties and candidates to adhere to the principles and standards of democratic elections and respect the rights and freedoms of the voters.
ZESN director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said: “We welcome the proclamation of the election date as it provides certainty and clarity on when Zimbabweans will exercise their right to vote. However, we are concerned that some critical reforms have not been implemented before this date. We urge all stakeholders to work together to ensure that these reforms are addressed as soon as possible.”
She added: “We also call for peace and tolerance among all political actors and citizens. We believe that elections are an opportunity for Zimbabweans to express their will and choose their leaders peacefully and freely. We hope that this election will be a milestone for our democracy and development.” 12