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'Appointment of Justice Chigumba as ZEC Chair Does Not Address Needed Zimbabwe Electoral Reforms'

Justice Priscilla Chigumba was sworn in Thursday by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as new ZEC chairperson.

A leading opposition member says what Zimbabweans need today are fundamental changes to the country’s electoral commission and its functions, the affirmation of its independence and the demilitarization of its personnel and operations.

Simba Makoni, former finance minister and now the leader of the Mavambo Kusile Dawn party, says these changes do not bear on any one individual.

His comments followed the appointment Wednesday of a new electoral commission chair by President Emmerson Mnangagwa ahead of presidential elections by July this year.

She is High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba and replaces Rita Makarau who resigned in December last year.

Makoni says Justice Chigumba’s appointment does not address any of the fundamental changes Zimbabweans are demanding.

In a related development, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said the newly appointed ZEC chairperson should spearhead the requisite legislative and administrative reforms to ensure that the 2018 elections are, free, fair and credible.

“As head of the electoral Commission, Justice Chigumba must strive to safeguard and protect the independence of ZEC by ensuring that principles of good electoral management such as transparency, integrity, professionalism, competence and fairness are upheld. Furthermore, the network calls upon the new ZEC Chairperson to ensure that provisions of the Electoral Act that guarantee freeness and fairness of electoral processes are respected by all electoral stakeholders in particular political parties.”

ZESN said ZEC, together with other institutions supporting democracy such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, “must bring to account individuals engaging in the illegal practice of soliciting for voter registration slips’ serial numbers and intimidating voters.

“As ZEC finalizes the biometric voter registration mop up which concludes on 8 February 2018, ZESN urges the new Chairperson to ensure that a comprehensive election calendar, clear timelines and roadmap of key electoral processes are put in place and shared with all stakeholders.”

ZESN reiterated its position that the continued absence of an election roadmap and timelines makes it difficult for stakeholders to adequately prepare for processes such as the inspection and certification of the voters’ roll, among several others.

“In addition, ZEC should continue to hold the stakeholder engagement meetings and consider increasing the frequency of such meetings in view of the time left before the elections are held. ZESN urges the Justice Chigumba to be responsive to the needs and concerns of all electoral stakeholders.

ZESN said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should adopt “the pen data policy which entails the timely access to information about each phase of the election process in granular and analyzable formats.”

At the same time, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) welcomed the appointment of Justice Chigumba, saying the “appointment of a substantive chairperson of ZEC brings the required certainty in the running and supervision of crucial electoral processes, especially ahead of the 2018 harmonized elections.

“ZimRights urges the new ZEC chairperson to look into the issue of critical electoral reforms that are still pending with nearly seven months left to the harmonized elections. The new ZEC chairperson must work tirelessly to affirm the independence and political impartiality of the electoral commission,” said ZimRights in a statement issued Thursday.

It further noted that ZEC should enforce a code of conduct for political parties in order “to eradicate malpractices such as voter intimidation, witnessed in the collection of serial numbers of registration slips from registered voters and public utterances of intimidation by politicians.

“When the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process ends on February 8, 2018, follow-up processes such as data storage on servers and production of the voter’s roll must be transparent to all political parties and stakeholders. It is our hope as civil society that the new ZEC chairperson will adopt an inclusive and consultative approach to discharging her national duties.”

Critics say ZEC appears to be an arm of the government as it comprises mainly people officials drawn from the president’s office and other arms of the state.

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