Constitutional watchdog, Veritas Zimbabwe says the proclamation of the election date by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa has grave implications on the conduct of the country’s forthcoming elections.
The watchdog says by virtue of section 143(1) of the Constitution, Parliament will be dissolved immediately before polling day, i.e. at midnight on the 22nd August.
Until then it can continue sitting and conducting its business, but it may not do so in fact – members of all parties will want to campaign and canvass for votes for the election.
Read the rest of the statement by the constitutional watchdog:
Closure of voters rolls
During the recent voters roll inspection exercise, which is due to end today, many voters – including prominent politicians – found their names had been left off the rolls.
The Chief Elections Officer is reported as saying that errors such as these would be corrected. But once voters rolls have closed tomorrow, can the errors be corrected? The law is not clear on the point.
Electoral Amendment Bill
This Bill has not yet been passed by Parliament – it is currently undergoing its Committee Stage in the National Assembly – so it cannot be used for the purpose of the General Election. This is because section 157(5) of the Constitution provides:
“After an election has been called, no change to the Electoral Law or to any other law relating to elections has effect for the purposes of that election.”
Hence even if Parliament were to proceed with the Bill and pass it – which is most unlikely – the election would have to be conducted as if the Bill had never been passed.
This has several awkward consequences, as we shall explain below.
1. Women and youths cannot be elected.
Under section 124 of the Constitution, as amended in 2021:
· There must be an additional 10 youth members of the National Assembly, one from each province [section 124(1)]
· Of the 60 women members of the National Assembly elected on a party-list system, 10 must be youths and some must be persons living with disabilities [section 124(1)]
· Provincial and metropolitan councils must each have 10 members elected on a party-list system of proportional representation [section 268]
· All these people must be elected in accordance with the Electoral Law.
The Electoral Act does not provide for the election of any of these people. The Electoral Amendment Bill would have done so but it cannot be used for the election and nor can any other law that may be enacted between now and polling day.
So how can these people be constitutionally elected? The simple answer is that they can’t, but if they are not elected then the National Assembly and all provincial and metropolitan councils will not be properly constituted.
2. Electoral reforms cannot be made
Over the years there have been many calls for electoral reform. Observers of the 2018 election made far-reaching recommendations which we summarised in our Election Watches 43/2018, 44/2018, 45/2018, 46/2018 and 47/2018.
The Motlanthe Commission, which was set up to look into post-election violence in 2018, also made recommendations for reform.
None of the recommended reforms has been implemented. Now that the election proclamation has been published none of them can be implemented, so the 2023 elections will have to be conducted without them.
This will have serious consequences not just for the credibility of the elections and for our political stability, but also for our economic development and international relations.
At the recent Structured Dialogue Platform meeting on the country’s debt, the facilitators – the President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, and the former Mozambique President, Mr Joaquim Chissano – are reported to have said that governance and electoral reforms were needed for creditors to agree on a scheme for debt relief.
Electoral reforms leading to free, fair and credible elections are a condition the country must meet if it is to rejoin the Commonwealth.
We do not know what considerations prompted the President to publish the proclamation yesterday. Whatever they were, reforms have been put on the back burner.