Read first edition of journal
The journal, set to come out annually, focuses for its first edition on issues related to elections and contests about elections. It’s a particularly timely focus, given that judges and members of the legal profession, regionally and internationally, are increasingly asked to play a significant role during preparations for polling, as well as monitoring actual elections and assessing to what extent they were free and fair.
The help of judges and other legal professionals to monitor and report on elections is often sought both in their home countries and in other jurisdictions, and judges are also asked to preside in election courts. Given this reality, the articles in this new journal will surely be required reading for any monitor, electoral court presiding officer and commentator involved in Zimbabwe’s forthcoming elections. They also provide much food for thought in relation to elections and election law elsewhere.
Explaining the thinking behind the new journal, coordinator Musa Kika said there had been a conscious decision to focus on the ‘live issue’ of elections for the first edition.
‘We want the journal to help build critical thought around elections and electoral conduct. We have an undeveloped jurisprudence around elections in Zimbabwe; though we have an electoral court, we can’t compare our jurisprudence with that of more developed jurisdictions.’
He said that judges in Zimbabwe had complained that there was so little academic writing on important legal issues and that it was hoped the journal articles would help fill that gap.
‘We hope the judiciary will receive it well and find it helpful. We were particularly aware, for example, that the electoral court will be inundated with petitions during the election period and we had this in mind when we chose areas on which to focus.’
Kika said that apart from judicial awareness and concern that might exist about electoral issues, the journal was also responding to the push in parliament for change to the electoral law. ‘Many people from civil society, opposition members and so on, are saying there must be changes so that the electoral law aligns to the constitution.’
With an amendment Bill before now parliament that tinkers with aspects of the present law, as well as a draft model electoral Act under discussion that would replace the entire present law, there is obviously considerable interest among many in parliament as well as political commentators and others, in what a constitutionally compliant piece of legislation would look like.
The journal had all these many groups in mind when it chose the focus of its first edition.
This can be seen in the journal’s first article, by Francisca Midzi, that offers an analysis of police conduct and the behaviour of traditional leaders in relation to elections. In her analysis, Midzi also looks at how freedom of association and assembly – crucial freedoms for a valid election – are affected by the conduct of police and traditional leaders.
Most helpfully for election monitoring, Midzi provides a checklist, noting what changes ought to have been in place before this year’s elections.
In a telling paragraph, Midzi writes that Zimbabwe’s constitution encompasses a ‘rich human rights framework to which laws, attitudes and practices must fully align.’
Unfortunately, ‘nine years after the adoption of the constitution, this … framework remains largely on paper and unimplemented. The government has not yet established the integrity and ethics committee for traditional leaders and the independent complaints mechanism for members of security services. The independent complaints commission bill is still going through parliamentary law-making processes. Alignment of the Traditional Leaders Act with the constitution has not been done, whilst the Public Order and Security Act was repealed and replaced with the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act in 2019, which contains draconian provisions that undermine freedom of association and assembly. The gap between the constitution and practice is a major drawback on the prospects for free, fair and credible elections, in particular the freedom of assembly and association in electoral processes.’
Another example cited by Midzi is the problem of police impunity in relation to the exercise of freedom of association and assembly. While the police have injured people when they disperse gatherings related to elections, there has been no evidence of internal disciplinary action or prosecution to hold them to account.
The independent complaints mechanism, which forms part of the constitution, was included there ‘in direct response’ to the lack of police accountability for their ‘transgressions’, she notes. A commission of inquiry set up to investigate the August 2018 election-related violence found that six people were killed and 35 injured through police and military actions, and that the perpetrators ‘must be held accountable.’
But, four years later, no member of the police service has been brought to book. ‘Impunity encourages police unlawful conduct and deters citizens from freely exercising their rights,’ Midzi comments.
The four other articles in this inaugural edition cover the registration and regulation of political parties in Zimbabwe, the extent of Zimbabwe’s ‘media space’ ahead of the 2023 elections, the effectiveness of Zimbabwe’s multi-party liaison committees and a consideration of whether the controversial decision to put off elections due for 2022 because of Covid-19 amounted to a subversion of the independence of the Zimbabwe electoral commission.