Why SADC Decided On Electoral Guidelines
HARARE, Oct. 14 - Every member of the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) has a sovereign right to pass its own laws, without reference to the regional organisation.
The minimum requirement is that the laws conform to international and regional standards. If a member-country legalised child prostitution, for instance, it is doubtful that Sadc would not raise hackles.
If a member of the United Nations passed legislation which breached the letter and spirit of the UN Charter, the organisation would protest. Belonging to a regional or international organisation entails the obligation to respect the tenets which guide that movement.
The Sadc guidelines on elections were introduced in that spirit. The conference in Mauritius, which resulted in their publication, was attended by all member-states, who endorsed them without reservations.
While it is true that the guidelines are not legally binding on member-states it would be ludicrous to say a member-state can ignore them completely and not risk censure or worse from the organisation.
This would provoke the question: In that case, why introduce them at all? Sadc introduced the guidelines because a majority of the member-states felt there was need for uniformity in the conduct of elections in the region.
The paramount concern of the authors was the democratic right of the voters. They needed to be protected against governments or political parties which, in the past, have ignored these rights with impunity.
Some of the governments sought to defend their actions on the basis that it was their sovereign right to conduct their elections in any way they felt was democratic - in their own terms.
For Zimbabwe, the Sadc guidelines come at a crucial time. Our elections since 1980 have been mired in controversy, the main complaint being that the laws are skewed in the governing party's favour.
Tendai Biti, the Harare East MP, in welcoming the Sadc guidelines joins many other Zimbabweans who believe they offer Zimbabwe a golden opportunity to hold elections, at last, on a level playing field.
But when the government and Zanu PF insist that the guidelines are not the law, questions must be raised.
The guidelines are intended primarily to make Sadc elections freer and fairer than they may have been in the past. Certainly, in Zimbabwe's case no neutral observer would dispute this assessment.
The MDC has won a host of petitions against Zanu PF victories in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
The courts have decided those elections were neither free nor fair. As we approach 2005, none of the seats Zanu PF lost in the petitions have held by-elections.
The Zanu PF MPs will have served their full terms by March next year. This is an utter travesty of democracy and the rule of law. If for that reason alone, the government must be made to adopt the Sadc guidelines without heavy amendments.
Any tinkering with them could land us back in square one: the killing and cheating of past elections.
The Daily News / allAfrica Global Media
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