GOVERNMENT yesterday told the United States to back off after Washington said the March 26 by-elections were a test case of Harare’s commitment to implement sweeping reforms to guarantee free and fair polls.
There have been calls from the opposition, civic groups and independent election watchdogs to implement electoral reforms including recommendations from observer missions who monitored the 2018 elections.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised sweeping reforms when he assumed office in 2017, but critics say political will is lacking while the ruling Zanu PF party is also on record stating that it would not reform itself out of power.
But the United States embassy in Harare said it would start listing a number of requirements that benchmark the holding of free and fair elections to strengthen the integrity of the polls.
“March by-elections and the 2023 harmonised elections give the government of Zimbabwe a chance to show that #ZimVotesMatter, especially if it honours its commitment to level the playing field by undertaking #ZimElectoralReform,” the US tweeted on Monday.
“This week, the US embassy in Harare will tweet several examples of what our government sees as the criteria for a free and fair election. Stated in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) and also in Zimbabwe’s own Constitution, these values have remained constant.”
The US imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2001 under Zidera, following allegations of gross human rights abuses, economic mismanagement and electoral theft.
Information deputy minister Kindness Paradza told NewsDay last night that the Zanu PF government did not take instructions from Washington, adding that electoral reforms were voluntary.
“We don’t get and act on instructions from Washington as a sovereign country. We are reforming on our own terms as an independent country. The reforms are voluntary and are not imposed on us,” he said.
“We are reforming media laws and we are 75% through. By March, we will be done with our media reforms, going by the parliamentary calendar. We will get guidance from Parliament so that we finish off the Bills that are on the table as stipulated by his Excellency, the President in his State of the Nation Address. This is, however, an ongoing process of reforming and we are doing it on our own without external interference.”
In October, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen reiterated the need for government to fully implement 2018 election observer mission (EOM) recommendations in a meeting with the Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava.
In a preliminary statement after the disputed 2018 polls, the EU OEM noted electoral malpractices such as “bias of State media” in favour of Zanu PF, adding this meant “that a truly level playing field was not achieved”.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), which has been tracking progress in the implementation of the EOM recommendations, recently expressed concern over the snail pace in implementing electoral reforms.
The US embassy also highlighted limited access to “public broadcast media, making it difficult for opposition candidates to share their policy agendas with Zimbabwean voters”.
“#ZimElectoralReform would uphold the Electoral Act and level the playing field by ensuring public broadcast media gives nationwide, equal, non-partisan airtime for all candidates during the election period,” it said.
Political analysts said Zimbabwe was sleep walking into a violent election, citing the chaos that characterised Zanu PF’s provincial elections.
Political analyst Eldred Masungure said: “The intensity of such politically-motivated electoral violence will most likely be calibrated to match the perceived existential threat posed by the opposition, specifically the Nelson Chamisa-led MDC Alliance. The greater the perceived threat, the bloodier the violence will likely be. In short, there will be a positive correlation between electoral violence and the seriousness of the opposition’s threats to Zanu PF.”
Another political analyst Vivid Gwede said the violence in the Zanu PF provincial elections last month was a cause of concern. “This calls for the country’s leadership to be unequivocal about zero tolerance to the culture of political violence,” he said.
Zanu PF secretary for external affairs Simbarashe Mumbengegwi recently said the ruling party would use the upcoming by-elections to gauge its support in urban areas, which for years has been strongholds of the opposition.
Zesn said a lot needed to be done to level the playing field ahead of the polls.
“No changes were made to the legal framework that enhanced the electoral commission. If anything, some of the changes are potentially negative to the extent that they are viewed as concentrating power in the hands of the Executive, who are contestants for political power themselves,” it said.