The date of Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections has been the subject of intense and protracted debate for a number of reasons.
One of the principal causes for this goes back to the bloody and tumultuous 2008 elections. The horrific violence surrounding the contested election results caused the two main political parties, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC, to enter into the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which allowed them to share power in the subsequent government. One of the key purposes of the GPA was to construct a framework to ensure that the next elections were free, fair and credible. However, little progress has been made in this regard in the subsequent 5 years. Zimbabwe now faces an upcoming election with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the credibility of the electoral process as many reforms have yet to be implemented. This uncertainty is reflected in the protracted debate that rages around the placement of the election date, as some political actors want more time to set these reforms in place. With many political commentators calling this election “the most important since independence”, Zimbabwe still faces an uphill battle in achieving a free and fair election.
The timing of this election is governed by the new constitution, which states that the election is to be held no later than four months after the end of the presidential and parliamentary term of office. As Mugabe was sworn into parliament on the 29th of June 2008, this date would be four months after June 29th, 2013. Therefore, constitutionally the election can be held no later than October 29th, 2013. Following a ruling by the Constitutional Court in June, Mugabe called the election for July 31st, 2013.
Whilst some people were in support of an election being held at the earliest date possible, there are many political leaders and commentators who are calling for a delay to the election to allow institutional reforms to take place. These reforms include changes to media access and changes in the police, military and security services to ensure their impartiality. Among these reforms are amendments to repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2002; the Public Order and Security Act, 2007; the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, 2004; and the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, 2007.
In recent times, these laws have been used to curtail freedom of speech and punish journalists for insulting the President. They have been used to overturn judicial rulings and extend the prison time of human rights activists. They have enabled the President to bypass parliament to suspend, amend or modify any law (except for the Constitution) if he believes it is for the public good, and have been used to amend the Electoral Act during elections. Two weeks before general elections in 2008, Mugabe invoked the Presidential Powers Act to amend the Electoral Act to allow police officers (widely perceived to be pro-ZANU-PF) to enter polling stations, ostensibly to “aid” those requiring assistance to vote. The new constitution prohibits changes to electoral laws once an election has been called. Therefore, since Mugabe called the election for July, all changes to the election laws have now been frozen.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, has called for the election to be postponed until September to implement the reforms. Deputy Prime Minister and deputy leader of MDC-T Thokozani Khupe has stated that without reforms, the election remains an uneven playing field. Presently, she says state-owned media cover only ZANU-PF and no other party. She has also said that Security Forces have openly voiced their support for ZANU-PF saying they would not support anyone who did not go to war for independence. Presently, she states, the police abuse their powers in cracking down on political meetings, stating they require permission even though the requirement is merely for the police to be notified. Laws such as these encroach on Zimbabweans freedom of speech, their freedom of association and their freedom of assembly. For a free and fair democracy to be achieved, these laws need to be reformed, and clarified, so that the police cannot purposefully misinterpret the law in such a non-partisan way.
Khupe states, “For us in the MDC we don't want an election for the sake of it, we want an election that is credible, an election that is legitimate, an election that is free and fair, and most importantly, an election that is going to reflect the will of the people.”
More recently, the SADC have also called for the election to be delayed until August 14th to allow time for the democratic reforms and voting preparations. Another application before the Constitutional Court was filed by human rights defender Nixon Nyikadzino, who claims that preventing the electoral reforms would infringe upon his human rights. A third case states that the July 31st date does not allow enough time for those with recent citizenship to register to vote.
The court had originally postponed hearing these cases indefinitely, which was seen by many as a delaying tactic by the government in order to force the July 31st election date. On June 27th, however, the Constitutional Court consolidated all applications seeking to extend the election date into one major case. The Court has said that the case would be heard by by July 4th.
The reforms agreed upon in the GPA, the stipulations of the Constitution and the interests of all political parties have confounded the election date decision. The necessary democratic reforms can be implemented in time if such political wrangling ends and state institutions work together for the common goal of a free and fair election. In the present state of national uncertainty combined with the unequal access of political parties to state media, security and electoral support, it is clear that the election date needs to be confirmed, providing enough time to implement the necessary constitutional reforms.
Human Rights Watch- Race Against Time: The need for legal and institutional reforms ahead of Zimbabwe's elections
Business Day Live- Zimbabwe justified in wanting to delay elections
The Guardian- Robert Mugabe's party asks court to delay Zimbabwe elections
AllAfrica.com- Zimbabwe: Election Date Cases Set for 'Consolidation'
AllAfrica.com- Zimbabwe: Reforms Must Come Before Zimbabwe Election- Kupe
Barnaby Locke is a Law and Psychology graduate from the University of Auckland and the Content Manager for the Zimbabwe Campaign at Beyond Violence. He has a particular interest in International Human Rights, European Union Law and the legal complexities in Post-Colonial developing countries.
Written by Barnaby Locke and published on 02-July-2013