As the continent celebrates Africa Day on May 25, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has called on the government to implement electoral reforms in line with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) ratified in 2021.
Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963, which later transformed into the African Union (AU) in 2002. The day aims to reflect on the changes, celebrate the sovereignty and encourage the political and economic integration of African countries.
One of the critical instruments adopted by the AU to promote democracy and good governance in Africa is the ACDEG, which came into force in 2012.
“The African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance emphasizes the significance of regular free and fair elections to institutionalize legitimate authority of representative government and democratic change of governments.” reads Article 2 (3) of the Charter.
It also seeks to promote best practices in the management of elections for purposes of political stability and good governance and to ensure effective participation of citizens in democratic and development processes and in the governance of public affairs3.
Zimbabwe, which is preparing for the 2023 harmonized elections, is among the 34 African countries that have ratified the charter.
However, ZESN argues that ratification alone is not enough and that the government should implement electoral reforms in the spirit of ACDEG to improve and consolidate the quality of democracy, elections and governance in the country.
“Some of these reforms include; the need to create a conducive electoral environment that will see the effective participation of citizens without fear; availing of the Voter’s Roll; the implementation of the 50/50 mechanism as provided for in the Constitution; clear outlines on the Women and Youth Quotas; the need for tactile ballot papers to ensure secrecy of the vote; the inclusion of young people in Provincial Councils; a review of the accreditation fees and opening up the space to allow long term observation by domestic observers; the need to ensure there are punitive measures are put in place to address the violence that affects women’s participation in politics and elections and the setting up of the Integrity and Ethics Committee to deal with the misdemeanors of Traditional Leaders in elections,” ZESN said in a statement.
The network also believes that reviewing outstanding electoral administration issues and promoting peace before, during and after elections will lead to free, fair and credible elections in Zimbabwe.
ZESN’s call comes at a time when Zimbabwe is facing various political, economic and social challenges that have eroded public trust and confidence in democratic institutions and processes.
The country has a history of disputed elections marred by violence, intimidation, fraud and irregularities. The last elections held in 2018 were contested by the main opposition party, MDC Alliance, which alleged that they were rigged by the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and its allies in the electoral commission and the judiciary.
The ACDEG sets standards for better governance across Africa by promoting and emphasizing good authority, popular participation, the rule of law and human rights.
It also speaks strongly against ‘unconstitutional changes of governments and encourages ‘change of power based on the holding of regular, free, fair and transparent elections conducted by competent, independent, and impartial national electoral bodies.
Further, the charter encourages state parties to adopt and implement sustainable development policies, promote transparency in public sector management and create conducive conditions for civil society organizations to exist and operate within the law.
Meanwhile, another electoral watchdog, the Election Resource Centre has also made a clarion call on the government: “To fully align election-related laws and support the ratification of the African Charter with key electoral reforms necessary to achieve free, fair and credible elections.”
The ERC noted that it stands with Africans as the continent works to deliver on promises of free and fair elections in Africa.
The organization further called on the SADC and AU: “To establish an early warning system to deal with potential areas of conflict ahead of Zimbabwe’s harmonized elections and to promote unity and solidarity in Zimbabwe through objective assessments of the 2023 harmonized elections.”