(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Scepticism over electoral reforms

[Zimbabwe] Zimbabwe Elections

Zimbabwean civil society has responded with scepticism to electoral reforms proposed by the government ahead of the general elections next year.

According to the official Herald newspaper, President Robert Mugabe's government has accepted the election guidelines drawn up by the South African Development Community (SADC), which recommend that voting take place in a single day, under the supervision of a new "independent" electoral commission.

The proposed new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) will be "independent of government" and replace the current supervisors, including the Registrar General and the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), the newspaper reported.

Mugabe will select five of the seven ZEC candidates proposed by parliament. The current ESC members are also appointed by Mugabe, who heads the ruling ZANU-PF.

"I am sceptical about the changes - how independent can the new commission [ZEC] be, when its chair is going to be appointed by the leader of a political party? In fact, the new commission will be less independent than some of its counterparts in the region," commented John Makumbe, a political analyst and chairman of the local chapter of the anticorruption NGO, Transparency International.

ZANU-PF's head of information, Nathan Shamuyarira, told IRIN that all the candidates nominated to sit on the commission, including its chairperson, would be proposed by parliament and not by the president.

"The entire electoral process will [then] be handled by the new commission - we will have nothing to do with it," Shamuyarira said.

He added that all the votes cast on election day would be counted at each polling booth and sent to the commission, which would handle the results and release them.

Transparent ballot boxes are also to be used to prevent irregularities.

Brian Kagoro, chief executive of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of NGOs, described the electoral changes as "cosmetic." Rather than changing the content of electoral law, he said, efforts should be made to change the conditions under which electioneering took place.

This could be achieved through the "opening up of democratic space, which allows civil society to operate freely", he said.

Makumbe welcomed the fact that voting would now take place within a day, and that the new commission, to be funded by parliament, would be accountable to parliament.

The new guidelines are expected to be sanctioned by SADC at its regional summit in August.

The Commonwealth, among other bodies, described Zimbabwe's June 2000 parliamentary and March 2002 presidential elections as not being free or fair, citing widespread intimidation and alleged vote rigging.

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