ZESN hands parly Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill
THE Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) has officially handed over a Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
Zesn chairperson Andrew Makoni handed the comprehensive draft to Acting Chairperson of Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, Joshua Murire in a virtual event.
Last year Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda had tasked Zesn, a network of 36 organisations formed to co-ordinate activities pertaining to elections in Zimbabwe, to coordinate CSOs in developing a Model Law on elections, which has culminated in the coming up of a Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill.
Makoni said the wide consultation of the draft spurned over a year and if implemented guarantees peace and stability.
He highlighted that there is need to break the cycle of continuously amending the law adding that Zesn appreciates the work that parliament has done since a draft copy was handed over to the august house this year; hence emerging with the 198-page document.
“Electoral outcomes in Zimbabwe are always highly contested as a result of gaps in electoral election laws. Every electoral cycle laws are amended, hence we need to attend to these issues ahead of elections; look at critical issues and avoid being partisan.”
The Zesn chairperson said while in the past it used to be tough to work with parliament, he was grateful that they were afforded the space. “We are happy you are an engaging parliament and thankful you will take this comprehensive draft to the house, debate it and emerge with a law that every Zimbabwean will be happy with. It gives me comfort that we will be able to get an Electoral Law that ensures there will be democratic elections in future and we look forward to a final product.”
The Zesn chairperson said electoral reforms are key to improving democratic elections in the country and it is good that they are implemented on time. “Election year after year observers and Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) come up legislative reform recommendations that need serious attention. We need to tick boxes so that the same issues don’t always resurface. The Justice committee should take this seriously
Murire, in accepting the Draft Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill said Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs received a petition from Zesn last year and it took the task to holding consultations as required by constitution. “We held workshops in Kariba and Kadoma. The Speaker’s input was valuable to address the concerns in the petition.”
He said going forward his committee will make sure that the product comes to fruition for the benefit of Zimbabweans. “The committee is full geared to see that the bill is processed and signed by President to become law. The Speaker guided us along the way and we hope the bill will produce a law that will shape and manage elections.”
Legislator Innocent Gonese said his prayer from now on is that they take time to debate the bill and appraise the executive. “The executive has to be appraised; we have to take the draft bill to parliament and it is important that this be done as soon as possible; we don’t have to get into 2022. More importantly we need to come up with a road map; interrogate contents of the bill and come up with our own recommendations. We need to bring an end to the era of contested elections.”
Another legislator Pulu thanked the Committee’s chairperson of opening up to civic society. “We would like to thank Zesn chairperson Andrew Makoni and executive director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava for giving us this template. It is always important to bring in people with expertise. I will support this draft; by and large it is a good draft.”
Highlights from the Comprehensive Electoral Amendment Bill
- Give Zimbabwe Election Commission power to make election related Codes of Conduct to be observed by traditional leaders, civil servants and media personnel.
- Give the power to the Commission to register political parties.
- Empower the Commission to take action with respect to infringements of the Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates and other stakeholders
- Remove the approval of minister and instead allow the Commission to accept funding in compliance with the Public Finance and Management Act as such funds are public.
- Bill provides that the membership of parliament and membership of any council of a provincial, metropolitan or local authority should all times reflect gender parity in order to achieve gender equality of representation between men and women pursuant to section 17, 56(2) and (3) and 80(1) of the constitution.
- Lays out obligations of political parties towards women, that every political party and candidate must respect, facilitate, promote and respect the full, free and equal right of women to participate in political activity, within parties and as candidates
- It also provides that membership of Parliament and membership of any council of a provincial, metropolitan or local authority shall at all times comply with any quotas reserved for the youth and persons with disabilities as m
- Ensure that the process of cleaning up the voters roll is conducted in a transparent manner with appropriate
- Extend postal voting to all registered voters who be outside the country at the time of the election
- The bill requires Commission after consultation with Multi Party Liaison Committees, to compile and issue elections timetables for each and publish them in the Gazette
- The Commission may amend the election times tables by notice in the Gazette if it considers it necessary to do so for a free and fair election; or the day is postponed in terms of the law.
- The Bill will also introduce a new section 39B which empowers the Commission to postpone an election at any polling station if it has reasonably determined that it is not possible to conduct a free and fair election at that polling station.
- Any postponement should be to a time within the period prescribed for holding elections by section 38 (1) of the Constitution.
- Give election observers the function to observe the entire electoral process, including the registration of voters, the preparation and maintenance of voters rolls, preparations made for elections, the conduct of polling, the counting of votes and the declaration of results
- The commission and all electoral officers to take any steps as may be necessary to ensure that accredited observers are provided with the facilities and information they may reasonably require; and are able to exercise their functions in any part of the country.
- Amend section 40H of the Electoral Act to reconstitute the Commission’s Observers Accreditation Committee, which recommends persons to be accredited as observers, so as to place it more firmly under the control of the Commission and less under the influence of the Executive.
- Lays out the functions of the Electoral Court and that it may exercise the general jurisdiction of the High Court in any matter that is brought before it.
- The Registrar of the High Court shall, when so directed by a judge of the Electoral Court, choose as assessors at the trial of an election petition or other matter two persons, at least one of t of whom must be a woman. AAssessors shall act in an advisory capacity only and shall not be entitled a vote in the decision of the Electoral Court.
- Provides for who may file for an election petition, and that is is fi filed with the Registrar of the High Court in the same was as a court application, with 30 days after the end of the election period.
- The Electoral Court shall resolve the real issues raised by the petition or appearing from evidence and, while observing the rules of fairness and natural justice, shall not allow technicalities to prevent the resolution of those issues.