ZCC raises concern over ‘shrinking’ political space

Review and Mail Writer

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) has raised concern over the shrinking space in the political landscape, where only two political parties, the ruling ZANU PF and the newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change fielded candidates in all the vacant constituencies.

The ZCC noted this in its Ecumenical Election Observation Preliminary Findings on the 26  March, 2022 by-elections released last week.

 “It was observed that only two political parties, ZANU-PF and the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) fielded candidates in all the vacant constituencies. For the church, it must be concerning that instead of a multi-party democracy, ours is becoming a bi-party political landscape with all its attendant tendency of simplistic black and white labels and tensions,” read the report.

The MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora, which together with five other smaller parties contested the by-elections under the MDC-Alliance banner, only fielded candidates in a few urban areas where it lost all the contested posts.

Despite having received over ZW$149 million through the Political Parties Finance Act, the faction failed to field candidates to represent the party.

 The party’s Secretary General Paurina Mpariwa openly admitted this.

“Where we failed to (field candidates), it was due to matters beyond our control and we took notes as we prepare for the 2023 general elections.”

Observations from the by-elections point to a two-horse race in the watershed harmonised elections slated for later next year.

ZCC further noted that the by-elections failed to meet the ethically expected standards, urging the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to up the ante in areas of voter’s roll management and polling stations accessibility for elderly voters.

The clergy however commended election stakeholders who participated in the elections for their contributions towards the successful holding of the polls.

The ZCC outlined a number of observations and findings which were guided by its #IprayIvote campaign which was launched back in 2018.

ZCC expressed concern over a number of issues which transpired during the pre-election campaign period up to the day of elections, including issues such as the general political environment, voter education, registration and other critical developments that had direct implications on the elections.

The council further made some recommendations in its report to ZEC, political parties as well as other interested stakeholders, to take into account to ensure peace during the run up to the 2023 harmonized elections.

The church noted with concern, that the by-elections were marred by hate speech and threats of violence by the two main political parties.

“During the early days of the campaign period, political leaders were promoting peace. However, as the nation drew closer to the by-elections, the Church noted with great concern the sudden change of language, as political leaders now resorted to the use of hate speech during campaigns.

The ZCC together with the ZHOCD met the vice president Dr Constantino Chiwenga regarding these violent cases on the 25th of March 2022,”.

Selective application of the law

In its report, the Church also highlighted the uneven playing field for political parties and suppression of some political parties which was observed during the election period.

“The Church is concerned about this selective application of the law as it undermines confidence in Law Enforcement Institutions. Some political parties faced challenges in holding their campaign rallies across the country, as the police would either deny their applications or accept with strict restrictions or conditions which would not apply to other political parties.”

Questionable voter’s roll

ZCC also raised questions over the handling of the voter’s roll by ZEC before and during the elections.

“On the 18th of February 2022, ZEC issued a press statement that was originally meant to clarify some issues that had emerged through various social media platforms. Through the statement, ZEC’s presentation was interpreted to mean that the voters’ roll that had been in the public domain being analysed by different actors was a ‘tempered copy’ and it had been inappropriately released through a ‘verbal request’. This raised concerns that the voters’ roll was not protected and could be tempered with.

“ZEC disowned the voters’ roll that was in the public domain, it did not go on to provide its correct version. For the Church, this case raised concerns regarding either the competency or credibility of ZEC,” said ZCC.

Limited women representation

In its report, the council further raised concern over limited women representation in leadership positions during the by-elections processes and urged political parties to promote the participation of women in the country’s politics.

“Political parties should promote the participation of women and youth in their parliamentary representation.”

The church made the following recommendations

  • The promotion of inter-party and intra-party tolerance through local political dialogues
  • ZEC to intensify its voter education program particularly in rural and remote areas
  • Political parties to promote internal democracy by running credible internal primary elections
  • Political parties to promote the participation of women and youth in their parliamentary representation
  • Political parties should fully adhere to Covid-19 regulations during campaign rallies
  • ZEC to ensure that polling stations are disability friendly for PWDs and the elderly
  • There is need for comprehensive capacity building program for polling officers so that time will not be wasted when conducting polling station election processes
  • Promotion of independent and impartial private and public media
  • Continued support for political agents to support the credibility of elections
  • Engagement with the police regarding their dealing with political parties should be prioritised by all key election stakeholders before the 2023 elections
  • Furthermore, critical institutions such as National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should publicly condemn all forms of political violence in order to help build public confidence in public institutions.
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