The Zimbabwe Election Commission’s refusal to nullify the outcome of the Hurungwe West by-election has triggered fresh calls for the disbandment of the body ahead of the 2018 general elections.
ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau recently admitted that the commission erred in the handling of the by-election by failing to regularise the Zanu PF winning candidate Keith Guzah’s voter registration status, but ruled out a poll rerun.
Guzah’s name did not appear on the constituency’s voters’ roll, but he was declared the winner despite the fact that he failed to vote for himself, edging independent candidate Temba Mliswa by a low margin.
The Electoral Act does not compel a candidate to vote, but simply requires that he be registered in the particular constituency.
Using the same provision last year, ZEC denied former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono the chance to become Manicaland Senator to replace the late Kumbirai Kangai, arguing that his name had not been transferred before the 2013 harmonised elections.
But Justice Makarau said Gono’s case was different from Guzah’s, arguing that at that time, the electoral body was not carrying out a voter registration exercise, but in this case, it registered people to vote.
Her explanation did not convince analysts and other legal experts who noted ZEC’s selective application of the law all but confirmed that the body was sympathetic to Zanu PF and that the country could only hold free and credible elections if it was reconstituted.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said the ZEC chairperson was undoubtedly a product of the Zanu (PF) network, having been appointed to several public offices by President Robert Mugabe. Additionally, he noted that most members in the ZEC secretariat were from the military and Mugabe’s office, making their impartiality questionable.
“Makarau and the whole secretariat are compromised. Most of the people in the secretariat came from either the military or office of the President,” Ruhanya said.
“There is duplicity and complicity between ZEC and Zanu PF and that history has proved that only people with Zanu PF links would become election officers. ZEC is not independent. We need people who can instil confidence to all political players and the people. The current ZEC set-up is far away from that.”
Before the 2013 general elections, Justice Makarau was appointed to lead ZEC at the sunset of the inclusive government between Mugabe and MDC formations led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube.
Ruhanya said the involvement and strong influence of the military and intelligence agents, whose allegiance to Zanu PF was not in doubt, cast a dark cloud over the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe.
Service chiefs are on record saying they would only support a Mugabe victory and Ruhanya said for the country to trust subordinates of such compromised people to run national elections was nothing less than a disaster.
Justice Makarau was once a Zanu PF MP. The late chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi, has an intelligence background, having worked in the President’s Office, while Major Utoile Silaigwana comes from the military.
Sekeramayi and Silaigwana presided over the discredited 2008 elections that were later rejected by the African Union.
Most of ZEC’s employees were recruited under a military leadership when Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba — a staunch Mugabe supporter — was chief elections officer when elections were still run by the Election Supervisory Committee, ZEC’s predecessor.
Nyikayaramba recruited intelligence officers, soldiers and Zanu PF supporters into the secretariat.
ZEC continued with the security personnel recruited by Nyikayaramba, then under Brigadier-General Justice George Chiweshe who presided over the 2008 harmonised election.
Most of them are still at the commission.
The current ZEC chief elections officer Constance Chigwamba, who was appointed this month, had served in the executive as permanent secretary in various ministries and was appointed by Mugabe.
Joice Kazembe, Makarau’s deputy, has been at the election management body since 1996 and has presided over many disputed and violent elections that propped up Mugabe.
Ruhanya last week said, by recruiting only those from the military and those who had served in Mugabe’s office, ZEC’s intentions were clear.
A report produced by Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe on Malawi elections confirmed Ruhanya’s views.
“Evidence suggests that the ZEC officers were partisan and compromised,” the report, titled Some Lessons Adaptable for Zimbabwe and the Sadc Region from Elections in Malawi, South Africa and Mozambique, said.
According to Section 236 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, ZEC commissioners must not act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or cause or prejudice the lawful interests of a party or violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person and that they must not be members of any political party.
Jealousy Mawarire, the Centre for Elections and Democracy executive director, a non-governmental organisation that monitors elections, said: “Makarau and her secretariat should give in to new faces. They are compromised and cannot be trusted to run the country’s national elections”.
But political analyst and Media Centre director Ernest Mudzengi said: “There should be an overhaul of the system at ZEC. The commission should be reformed into an independent electoral system that will gain everyone’s trust. It is the system, not the people.”
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure weighed in saying: “Yes, it makes sense to reconstitute ZEC, but the question is: Who will replace the current crop of ZEC? Even if ZEC is compromised, the tragedy with Zimbabwe is that we don’t have anyone who can stand above partisan politics.
“I am not sure whether in any social sector we can find a person who is not tainted, even in the academia. We are a heavily polarised society and it is difficult to find someone who is politically clean.”
Masunungure said ZEC was moving from a dark past and eventually would reform itself into a creditable institution, but how fast that would happen depends on various factors.