In addition to the technical capacity and financial needs required for the ZEC to hold a free, fair and credible election (which the African Union has pledged to support), the environment in which campaigns and elections occur must be conducive to genuine political competition. For this to happen, several laws in Zimbabwe used to limit freedom of speech, free press and assembly, and restrict access to information must be repealed or reformed to align with the 2013 Constitution. These repressive laws include the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Interception of Communications Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The Electoral Law itself requires a substantial overhaul to align with the 2013 Constitution, including making the ZEC entirely independent and addressing the issue of diaspora voting.
Finally, the importance of a viable opposition capable of competing in the electoral process cannot be understated. A critical benchmark in achieving this is the prevention of a supermajority in the Zimbabwean National Assembly – which ZANU-PF currently has – to prevent further amendments to the 2013 Constitution that would restrict political space and fundamental freedoms or grant additional powers to the presidency. In the post-election period, it is critical that the opposition demonstrate its cohesiveness and capacity to serve as a check on government power and advocate for the interests and priorities of its constituents.
It is vital that the U.S. stand by the Zimbabwean people and the movement for democratic reform in this period of transition. With this goal in mind, I would like to offer the following recommendations:
The United States must be ardent in its support of free and fair elections. The citizen movements of last year, including #ThisFlag and Tajamuka, and the outpouring of citizens who took to the streets to celebrate the resignation of Mugabe are evidence of the strong desire for genuine change, and the 2018 elections will be a pivotal point for Zimbabwe. The current government lacks electoral legitimacy and has a stated interest in returning to full constitutional order. Considering this alignment of interests, the U.S. must offer its unwavering support for a free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process. Key U.S.-based, regional and international partners, including IRI, are already doing important work to support stakeholders including the ZEC, civil society and political parties ahead of the 2018 election, but this support must be expanded.
Key areas requiring additional attention include: civic education, in order to ensure that citizens are informed of the process and their rights ahead of Election Day; initiatives to combat fake news, disinformation and restrictions to the media and access to information; efforts to safeguard the vote, including the unhindered observation of the process by political parties and domestic and international observers; and activities to deliver an open and non-violent electoral process at all stages, from campaigning to electoral dispute resolution.
To achieve these objectives, the United States must redouble its efforts to work with our Zimbabwean and regional partners – especially the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union – to stand for nothing less than a transition to democratic rule through a free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process.
Over the longer term, the U.S. and our democratic allies must provide support to foster a competitive multi-party-political system and the establishment of democratic institutions. As those of us who work in the field of democracy and governance assistance understand all-too-well, elections are just one part of a much larger democratic process. The overall health and maturation of Zimbabwe’s democratic system requires a strong multi-party system.
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