Legitimacy of Zim referendum at stake

Party leaders who signed a power-sharing deal in 2008 are pushing for the referendum to go ahead: (from left) Morgan Tsvangirai, Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Party leaders who signed a power-sharing deal in 2008 are pushing for the referendum to go ahead: (from left) Morgan Tsvangirai, Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

There are fears that all the financial, logistical, legal and technical problems that bedevilled the lead-up to the referendum could jeopardise the outcome.

Zimbabwe will go ahead with the referendum on Saturday March 16 2013.

South African President Jacob Zuma, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) facilitator on dialogue in Zimbabwe, on Tuesday dispatched his mediation team to Harare to check on the state of preparedness for the referendum and elections. The team, which include his spokesperson Mac Maharaj, Charles Nqakula, a political adviser to the presidency, and Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma's international relations adviser, met negotiators from the three parties – Zanu-PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change factions – to get an update on the situation.

One of the negotiators said Zuma's team had expressed concern about the slow progress on reforms and the recent resurgence of political violence.

"They were gravely concerned about the renewed crackdown on civil society organisations and political violence."

But the principal members of the unity government – President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara – are determined not to let anything stand in their way. Mugabe recently confirmed he had rejected attempts by Finance Minister Tendai Biti to postpone the referendum because of financial and logistical problems.

Budget cuts
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which must hold the referendum and polls, wanted a budget of $220-million for both exercises, but the amount was revised down to $192-million after the scrapping of a proposed plan to demarcate constituencies.

The commission now says at least $85-million is needed for the referendum and $107-million for the elections.

After the United Nations Development Programme said it would not grant the funds requested by Zimbabwe, the government wrung $60-million from Econet Wireless, Mbada Diamonds and Anjin Investments. With $25-million budgeted by the government, this means the treasury has only $85-million in its coffers for both the referendum and elections.

Government officials in charge of the electoral processes said the referendum date was rushed and this presented serious challenges for the ZEC because of the  financial difficulties.

The commission is also in trouble over the recent appointment of Justice Rita Makarau, a former Zanu-PF non-constituency MP, as its chairperson to replace retired judge Simpson Mutambanengwe.

"The ZEC was not given sufficient time and, as a result, it is struggling to organise the referendum. The referendum will be the first countrywide voting process to be conducted by ZEC since it was set up as a constitutional commission in early 2010," an official said.

Election credibility at stake
A report by Veritas, a group of lawyers who monitor parliamentary and constitutional processes, says the ZEC is under immense pressure to perform properly. "Any mistakes or inadequacies in the referendum process will affect the ZEC's credibility and reflect adversely on its capacity to handle its next big test, which will be the coming elections," Veritas says.

"To handicap the ZEC by requiring it to conduct an acceptable referendum exercise in less than half the time it has said it needs is to run the risk of a botched process and to imperil the chances of elections that will be widely accepted later in the year."

Some of the problems the ZEC is facing include the hiring of polling staff, dealing with the issue of postal votes and complaints by civil society, the need for clarity on the process, vote counting and the communication of results.

The National Constitutional Assembly, a civil society group dealing with constitutional issues and led by Professor Lovemore Madhuku, went to court to challenge the referendum date, demanding a postponement.

But Justice George Chiweshe, also a former ZEC chairperson, dismissed the application.

Madhuku has appealed the ruling in the Supreme Court.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a non-governmental organisation that monitors electoral processes, said the ZEC was not given sufficient time to prepare a credible referendum.

"The date raises questions about the ZEC having sufficient time to organise a credible referendum consistent with the laws of Zimbabwe as well as the SADC and international principles and guidelines governing the conduct of democratic elections," the ZESN said.

The draft constitution was produced by a select parliamentary constitutional committee which started its work in 2009 and only finished it this year.

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