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SADC region far from holding free and fair elections

By Farai Dauramanzi

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) held a public seminar on Tuesday 4 November 2014 in Harare to assess compliance to the SADC principles and guidelines governing conduct of elections by member states with particular reference to elections that were held in the region this year.

There were four elections in the region this year namely in South Africa on 7 May, Mozambique on 15 May, Malawi on 20 May and most recently Botswana on 24 October. Various speakers who included political analyst Dr Ibbo Mandaza, Irene Petras from ZHLR and Ian Goredema of ZESN made presentations on topics which interrogated compliance to the election guidelines.

Dr Mandaza who presented an analysis of the political and social environment in relation to free and fair elections said that all countries in SADC were far from holding meaningful and legitimate elections but, noted that some countries such as South Africa have done better than others.

“The most depressing aspect of our elections is the extent to which mobilisation has given in to regimentation…our politics are empty, they are office-based not people-based. For the elections in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi and Botswana, the differences in form and content is one of degree rather than kind,” said Dr Mandaza.

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Dr Mandaza explained that SADC’s election principles were modelled under a bourgeois model which does not apply to the situation prevailing in the region rendering the guidelines meaningless.

“The difference between a good election and a bad election is that, are those institutional requirements being followed, basic preconditions for free and fair elections thus the constitution, electoral laws, voters roll and in our case we do not have that. So I would advise that we do not go for elections in 2018 until those conditions are met,” explained Dr Mandaza.

Petras who presented on the legal framework in compliance with the SADC principles and guidelines on the conduct of elections said that the legal framework for free and fair elections was there but, said compliance was lacking.

“There is lack of political accountability, a demand by citizens for political accountability…voters have got the ability to put pressure and to hold those institutions (electoral institutions) accountable that is where the gap is,” said Petras.

The human rights lawyer went on to say that there was lack of political will amongst leaders in the region to implement electoral laws which exist in their countries. Petras also said that legislation is only one requirement for states to show that they respect international laws and standards but, noted that it can also be abused by political powers for personal needs.

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“The most important requirement is the behavioural requirement. The state has to state those laws and do its upmost to implement them otherwise legislation and reality will never be, one will never translate into each other,” added Petras.

Goredema of ZESN who presented on the role of election observers in assessing technical compliance with SADC guidelines on elections said that elections in SADC were still flawed due to various factors which include lack of voter education, transparency of the electoral processes, access to media by political parties and issues to do with voter registration and the voters roll amongst a host of other issues.

For the audio files:

Dr Ibbo Mandaza – ZESN Public Seminar Presentation 4 Nov 2014 – Ibbo Mandaza

Irene Petras – ZESN Public Seminar Presentation 4 Nov 2014 – Irene Petras ZHLR

Ian Goredema – ZESN Public Seminar Presentation 4 Nov 2014 – Ian Goredema

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