By The Solutions Tower Staff.
There has been a raging struggle towards effecting electoral reforms in Zimbabwe. Minimal success has, however, so far been recorded.
As a consequence of the above, Zimbabwe’s opposition parties have been lambasted by many for their seeming cluelessness. Criticism against opposition parties in Zimbabwe, some of it unwarranted, has failed to interrogate, in a holistic manner, factors that have stood, and continue to stand in the way of truly meaningful electoral reforms in Zimbabwe.
This contribution seeks to explore the naturally explosive issue of electoral reforms in this southern African country, not with view to denigrating any if the country’s opposition political parties, but simply to try and identify some of the major challenges to electoral reforms the country has continued to endure.
Hindrances to electoral reforms
Some of the identified major hindrances to electoral reforms in Zimbabwe, among them; absence of a clearly defined object of reforms; presenting electoral reforms’ single most important intention; an absence of guarantees regarding future safety of the incumbents, including exclusion of the electorate from the very electoral reform agenda itself. It is, therefore, the view of The Solutions Tower that the struggle for electoral reforms in Zimbabwe can only be won if the aforementioned issues are first addressed.
The proponents of electoral reforms in Zimbabwe appear to have failed to distinctively articulate the main purpose behind transformation of the electoral system that they continue to call for, day in and out. As a culmination of this perceived failure, those believed to be benefiting from the current electoral system have now become suspicious, further harbouring speculation as to the main intention behind the opposition movement’s main clamour for electoral reforms in the country’s statutes book.
In the Zimbabwean context, as in any other democracies, electoral reforms are supposed to enhance transparency and accountability in the whole process of electoral management. Accordingly, it is only an all encompassing and fair electoral management system that has the capacity, in the case with Zimbabwe where results of elections have perennially been contested, that could finally bring both the credibility and legitimacy to Zimbabwe’s elections, and in the process allowing winners to take over power unimpeded.
Thus, when properly, unravelled, one hopes that the case for electoral reforms has the potential to benefit even the incumbent, in as much as election outcome disagreements would be curbed, and widespread accusations of poll rigging become confined. While elections are quite germane in any democratic system, representing them as the only important aspect standing in the way for democratic transformation could be problematic.
Electoral reforms are supposed to be part of a whole package for democratic transformation. A holistic approach to electoral transformation could potentially be unifying, with consensus being found on what could constitute ideal governance, the kind that would benefit Zimbabweans across the political divide. Just a narrow focus on electoral reforms would likely be regarded as something meant only to benefit the elite.
While it may hold true that power is the currency of politics, it is the narrow and myopic fixation on it that may leave people unable to separate the opposition’s agenda from that of the current ruling elite. In view of the above, as movements like the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA) continue to call for electoral reforms, they need to present to the people a full package of their intentions.
The above would likely witness a shift on the struggle from just being a leaders based political intrigue to an authentic “people’s struggle” with capacity to attract as many social movements purporting to represent various segments of society unhappy with the governance system currently in place as possible.
As a corollary of the above, it can be noted that so far the political parties have hugely excluded the people from the struggle for electoral reforms. As a result, Zimbabwe’s political parties may not be exerting adequate pressure on the governing authorities as they seem to be fighting a lone battle.
As a prerequisite, the opposition in Zimbabwe should at least appreciate that any so called successful revolution need the full participation of masses, with the struggle itself belonging to, and being unequivocally owned the masses.
In such a scenario, whenever the people say ‘NO’, dictators are bound to take heed and bow to their demands.
The Arab Spring, a revolution that swept across the Middle East, removing from power such leaders like Maummar Gaddafi of Libya, a former long time friend of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe represents one such instance of the above.
Lastly, the push for electoral reforms in Zimbabwe is being misconstrued as a push to open floodgates for the imprisonment of those alleged to have perpetrated heinous human rights violations, among other political and economic crimes. There seems to be a strong belief among Zimbabwe’s ruling elite that any political transformation which leaves the ruling Zanu PF out of the power matrix would definitely be their passport to jail.
Knowledge, therefore, of the political context within which the call for electoral reforms is being made, could create a platform for a mutually negotiated political reform programme that goes beyond mere elections. In this connection, the opposition movement should be prepared to make compromises with the purpose of scaling down the fear factor of those alleged to have improperly benefitted from the status quo.
As discussed above, the agenda for electoral reforms in Zimbabwe has remained hamstrung mostly owing, in my view, to a failure by politicians to articulate the purpose of electoral reforms, including exclusion of the people from a negotiated political solution.
The Solutions Tower also observes that it is the fear of the unknown by other stakeholders, and in particular by those that have been too long in power and have probably irregularly benefitted from its abuse, that continues to stall Zimbabwe’s manoeuvre towards a negotiated political settlement among its people.
In this regard, the clamour for electoral reforms should be treated as part of a systems overhaul which seeks to effect a holistic transformation of the entire political system. While political parties will continue to play a significant role, the struggle for electoral reforms should be defined and understood as a struggle of the people, by the people and for the people. There is also need to show how the incumbent elites will benefit from a reformed political system
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