The Sunday Mail
Dr Elasto Mugwadi
Zimbabwe holds elections on July 30, 2018. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is among key stakeholders with a mandate to ensure the polls are held under an environment that guarantees the protection of rights of candidates and voters. The Sunday Mail’s Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo spoke to ZHRC Chair Dr Elasto Mugwadi on the functions of the commission before, during after the polls. We publish excerpts of Dr Mugwadi’s responses.
The role of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission in election monitoring is enshrined in Section 143 of the Constitution.
The supreme law empowers the commission to monitor various situations that include prisons, refugee centres, police detention centres or cells and, with respect to elections, we do monitor the pre-election process, the polling day and the post-election period.
Ideally, in monitoring, if we notice any anomalies we raise them with the responsible authorities. In this case it is Zec which is the election management body in this country.
We monitored the BVR exercise and came up with our observations.
We received a number of complaints in relation to voter registration slips, wich some political parties and traditional leaders demanded people make public so they could record serial numbers.
In our view we thought it was intimidatory and we therefore raised that with the political parties including Zec.
The explanation from Zec was that there was really nothing wrong with someone asking for proof of registration as a voter, especially with political parties, if they wanted to take count of their supporters who had registered as voters; because at the end of the day the registration slip is not used at all in voting.
When you are casting your vote what is required of you is your national identity document which shows proof that you are a citizen, eligible to vote and you are over 18 years. If you don’t have an ID, a valid passport which reflects your status as a citizen of this country can be used.
We also got explanations from political parties, in particular Zanu-PF, which confirmed that all that they wanted was to keep record of their supporters who had registered to vote, but in our view, we felt they could have been better ways to do this.
They keep registers of their followers, but they said in addition to a register, they could not tell that someone who is an affiliate of their party is registered to voter.
They said the party could have so many people on their register, yet they are not registered and do not appear on the voters roll.
There was a person in Chiredzi who was arrested for forcing someone to produce their BVR slip and was eventually taken to court and convicted.
What turned out, in this case, was that it was not an issue which had been prompted or initiated by a political party, but just an individual who had taken it upon himself to make those demands.
If he had been sent by a political party that party would have stood by him. We ended up making our own report to Zec of our findings and recommendations.
We also had engage the police requesting them to investigate any such report which we would have received because if you are forcing someone or coercing them; it’s just not verbal intimidation there is criminal violation of someone’s rights.
People are supposed to associate freely and go about their political activities freely in terms of the national Constitution.
Even when they go to vote, they do not have to be asked who they voted for, it’s a free choice that you are exercising in terms of your rights.
We also monitored primary elections by the two major political parties – Zanu-PF and the MDC.
To us, this is a positive development in a budding democracy where people are no longer just being appointed, but are elected by the people.
Our first observation was that both parties were ill-prepared for this exercise.
In the case of Zanu-PF, the ballot papers could not be delivered timeously and even in some constituencies they were not delivered on the voting day resulting in the primary elections being moved to the following day.
They were doing it for the first time, so we can understand the administrative hiccups and our recommendations in our reports were that they should not wait until the last minute to print the ballot papers.
The political parties should print the voting material well in advance and send them to constituencies in time for people to vote without delay on the voting day.
In respect of the MDC, we could not monitor some of their primary elections because they kept moving the dates. We discovered that the MDC wanted to emphasise the issue of selection by consensus.
But that again did not go down well with a number of their candidates ending up opting to contest the main polls as independents.
It is the same with both political parties that those who felt aggrieved because the process was not above board, ended up as independents and we have discovered that they are many such in Zanu-PF and MDC.
But that speaks well of our democracy where people are not imposed like in the past where the leadership just appointed someone to say you are going to represent this constituency; someone who would not even touch base with his constituency once elected.
On top of the primary elections, we also monitored the nomination court processes and observed that, in some cases, there were again a state of unpreparedness.
The system was overwhelmed by the big number of aspirants, especially at provincial level.
People could not fit in the courts and there was a lot of noise and chaos.
But we were pleased that at the end of the day, all those who were aspiring to contest the elections submitting their nomination papers and for those that failed to do so, they understood why they did not make it.
The issue of political rallies is also another matter we engage in as part of our pre-election monitoring.
We are monitoring the rallies that are taking place and it is sad to say there have been nasty developments, especially at the Zanu-PF rally at White City Stadium recently.
Such acts are uncalled for, these are heinous terrorist acts by people who want to destabilise the peace that is prevailing.
The general political environment, other than the White City rally, appears to be conducive to free, fair, credible and transparent polls come 30 July 2018.
We will continue to do the monitoring and do our engagements with political parties.
You are aware that we made recommendations to political parties that they should desist from hate speech in their campaigning processes.
They should also avoid negative sloganeering which tends to be provocative.
Those who are campaigning are allowed to gather and go about their political business without interference from the security forces.
What they are doing now is that they simply give notice (to the police), they don’t apply for authority and this is a positive development as far as the enjoyment to freedom of association, freedom to assembly and freedom of conscience goes.
All the police now do is to monitor in order to enforce law and order so that there is no disturbance from unruly elements; that is a requirement in any polity or any state.