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Zimbabwe needs wide reforms to have credible elections but it may be too late

After its 2013 “defeat”, the MDC resolved not to contest any elections until the system was fair.

Together with other (smaller) opposition parties, it boycotted all by-elections for both the local government and the legislature from 2013.

These parties and certain civil society organisations gathered under the umbrella of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA).

The group aimed to address problems that compromise the credibility of elections in Zimbabwe.

There are four main reasons why electoral institutions in Zimbabwe are in urgent need of reform.

  • Municipal law should align with conventions such as the African Charter on Democracy and Governance.
  • The Electoral Act should align with the new Constitution.
  • The consistently flawed electoral process has created a crisis of legitimacy.
  • Manipulation of the electoral process prevents a transfer of power in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) should be the primary target for reform. It has no credibility and has long been considered independent on paper only.

Other targets for reform include:

  • The judiciary. Most judges are perceived as sympathetic to the ruling party’s interests because they are part of its patronage network
  • The security sector. The military, intelligence and police are widely considered partisan
  • The bureaucracy, especially senior appointments. These are subject to manipulation by the ruling party
  • Biased state media
  • Regulations and laws that allow citizens to take part freely in the electoral process such as the Public Order and Security Act

In line with the new constitution of 2013, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) made some changes. Some were voluntary and others were required by the new Constitution.

Voluntary reforms are mostly administrative. For example, voter registration is now based on polling stations and on biometric information.

Mandatory or legal reforms include the creation of a new voters’ roll, keeping it secure, giving it to candidates in time and improving voter education.

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