The regulation of the country’s presidential polls has come under the spotlight following revelations last week to the effect that the government wants to tighten screws on aspirants, in a bid to weed-out chancers.
In last year’s elections, an unprecedented 23 candidates including President Emmerson Mnangagwa and main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) battled it out for the highest office in the land.
The elections management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had a nightmare in designing ballot papers to accommodate all the 23 candidates, some of which had emerged a few months before the proclamation of the election date.
To avoid such in future, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, disclosed that the government would be making some changes in the regulation of the presidential ballot.
The new changes would ensure that presidential hopefuls be nominated by at least 1, 000, up from 100 registered voters from across the country’s 10 provinces and also fork out more than the current ZW$ 1, 000 nomination fee.
“Clearly, the number of 23 presidential aspirants as we saw last year was unprecedented and a challenge for both the management of the polls and the voters,” said Methuseli Moyo, a social commentator.
“Our presidential ballot paper was just too bloated, yet only two or three candidates were worth the trouble. The rest were just in it for the sake of it. Therefore, there is a need to tighten the minimum requirements to weed out attention seekers, and in some cases, outright clowns who just want to be there to make names for themselves. Democracy must not allow national issues to be reduced to the level of a circus.”
He said there was nothing sinister with the government in trying to tighten screws to limit the number of presidential candidates, adding the process of voting, counting, tallying and announcement of results would thus be less cumbersome.
“First of all, it is very correct to weed out chancers because it makes a mockery of presidential candidature,” said Rejoice Ngwenya, a political analyst.
“I even feel the voters are few, but that is still a good filter. Some candidates don’t even have supporters. I also agree that for a small voting population of five million, 23 candidates and 30 parties is a joke. The quality of candidates is a reflection of the quality of our democracy. That is why councils attract low grade politicians – the conditions are too lax.”
Ngwenya was however quick to highlight that the electoral agenda was much wider than candidates, adding until there were wholesome reforms; the electoral results would always be disputed.
“I think the law should weed-out the role of government (in elections) because Mnangagwa is part of government. ZEC must be made totally independent through a Parliamentary, not presidential nomination and appointment,” added Ngwenya.
MDC Bulawayo provincial spokesperson, Swithern Chirowodza, told CITE more still needed to be done for the better regulation of the country’s elections.
“All members of the military past and present should leave ZEC as it is now a quasi-military institution,” he said, adding ZEC was not an independent body.
“Records of voters must be stored and distributed in mutually agreed format. The current arrangement makes not only for a dictatorship but an election which in effect is actually a one-man race. Political parties must be able to agree on who prints election material. They must be free to determine and to agree on how to keep and destroy the residue of material used during elections.”
Chirowodza added: “Police officers and other members of the security forces must not be made to vote in front of their superiors.”
ZAPU spokesperson, Iphithule Maphosa, said he was skeptical of the government’s motives in changing those regulations, accusing the ruling party of wanting to maintain their grip on power.
“This law, as suggested by the government must be thrown away together with its propagators,” said Maphosa.
“Instead of improving the way elections are run, it will take away everything that speaks to fairness and freedom of the elections. Instead of this self-centred suggestion, the government and opposition in Parliament should be implementing electoral reforms that were agreed on during the GPA (Global Political Agreement) negotiations that led to the GNU of 2009. That’s the only way we can improve our elections.”