Striving for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe
A country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair. Elections are a central feature of democracy. For elections to express the will of the electorate, they must be ‘free and fair’. Free means that all those entitled to vote have the right to be registered and to vote and must be free to make their choice. In Zimbabwe every citizen over the age of 18 is entitled to vote. An election is considered ‘free’ when you can decide whether or not to vote and vote freely for the candidate or party of your choice without fear or intimidation. A free election is also one where you are confident that who you vote for remains your secret.
Fair means that all registered political parties have an equal right to contest the elections, campaign for voter support and hold meetings and rallies. This gives them a fair chance to convince voters to vote for them. A fair election is also one in which all voters have an equal opportunity to register, where all votes are counted in a transparent manner, and where the announced results reflect the actual vote totals. Critical development efforts cannot succeed without a legitimate and democratically elected government that is responsive and accountable to its citizens. Elections provide an important opportunity to advance democratization and encourage political liberalization.
For an election to be free and fair, certain civil liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, association and assembly, are required. Elections can be a primary tool to foster political openings and expand political participation. Electoral processes offer political parties and civic groups an opportunity to mobilize and organize supporters and share alternative platforms with the public. Elections also serve to encourage political debate and public dialogue.
There are basically 10 elements that are essential to fair elections and political processes:
- Impartial electoral frameworks
- Credible electoral administration
- Effective oversight of electoral processes
- Informed and active citizens
- Representative and competitive multi-party systems
- Effective governance by elected leaders and bodies
- Inclusion of women and disadvantaged groups
- Effective transfer of political power
- Consensus-building for democratic reform
- Sustainable local engagement
Zimbabwe has attempted to attain and follow these principles with limited success over the years. Most of the elections especially in the post 2000 era have been contested with eminent glaring gaps such as uniformed citizenry, violence (leading to exclusion of women and disadvantaged groups) and limited oversight of electoral processes. These have raised issues that dent the free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. These and other challenges faced before can be averted if there is engagement from all the actors in electoral cycle.
TI Z is encouraging all stake holders involved in electoral processes to be transparent in handling the forth coming elections. Information must be available to all citizens from different parts of the country. As an organisation we have discovered that free and fair elections play a critical role in political transitions by advancing democratization and encouraging political liberalization and helping to promote peaceful, democratic political transformation that lead to increased stability and prosperity.