Transparent and credible electoral processes should become the bedrock of the political system if real peace, legitimacy and sustainable development are to be realised, the National Association of Youth Organisations (NAYO) has said.
Speaking at a press conference in Harare under the banner of the Leave No Youth Behind (LNYB), a local coalition of more than 100 youth CSOs that has been working throughout the election cycle since its inception in November 2016, NAYO highlighted a number of areas that it has been undertaking in promoting peace among the youths and the general citizenry.
“We commend our leaders and the people of Zimbabwe for continuously advocating for tolerance and peace before, during and after elections. Leaders should however take seriously the fact that a free, fair, trustworthy and credible electoral process should become the bedrock of our political system if real peace, legitimacy and sustainable development are to be realised in our life time.
“We congratulate young people form ZANU PF and MDC Alliance who made it to the local council and parliament. We are humbled by young people who contested, they did not lose but they showed the nation their right to participate,”said Mr. Misheck Gondo, the National Director of NAYO.
The coalition has a National Coordinating Committee of 22 Youth and Students organisations drawn from the 10 provinces in Zimbabwe. LNYB is based on a number of principles including non-partisanship; peace; participation; youth primacy and; non-violence.
These principles inform the five key pillars of the campaign which are: Go Mobilise; Go Educate; Go Register; Go Vote; and Go Demand. The coalition is convened by the National Association of Youth Organisation (NAYO) and advised by NANGO Youth Sector. The following are the National Coordinating Committee Members: Yield Trust, Youth for Innovation Trust (YIT), Great Indaba Zimbabwe (GIZIM), Community Youth Development Trust(CYDT)-Matabeleland South, Hwange Youth Forum, For Youth By Youths, Youth for Peace and Development (Y4PD), Zimbabwe Young Women Network For Peace Building (ZYWNP), Real Agenda For Youth Transformation (RAFYT), Chosen Trust, Community Advocacy Development Association(CADA), Africa Foundation for Development and Tolerance(AFDETO), Sheep Gate International, Vision Africa Zimbabwe, Centre for Youth Empowerment & Development(CYEDT), Zimbabwe Renewal Generation Trust (ZRGT), and Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU)
The pre-election period saw young people being encouraged to go and register to vote. The result is evidenced by a higher voter registration, of approximately 5,695,706 million registrants. NAYO Analysis of statistics provided by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) showed that over 2 million (43.5%) of the registered electorate were 35 years and below. These youths (18 to 35 years) that registered under the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system compare favourably to the paltry 8.87 % in 2013 (RAU: 2013). The figures are testimony of the increased political socialisation of the populace and the achievements of micro-targeting efforts such as Leave No Youth Behind.
The pre-election phase was largely peaceful with political parties able to campaign freely in various provinces, which was a motivator for the first time voters to register to vote. Previous elections have been known for excessive violence and intimidation which resulted in young people shunning electoral processes. The efforts across the divide within civil society to target and reach out to youth are commendable as apathy was dealt with.
LNYB witnessed an increased participation of youth in political process as compared to 2013 harmonized elections. Young people participated in various political parties primary elections and after victory campaigned for political offices at local and parliamentary levels and some fielding as independent candidates, with mixed results as in any race. We are in a process of documenting youths who participated in the 2018 elections as youth candidates. It is also encouraging that the presidential candidates moved from 5 candidates in 2013 to 23 in 2018 with four of the 23 being female candidates. It is however worrying that there was no youth representation at presidential and senatorial level due to restrictive laws that limit the age of the former to 40 years of age. We were also concerned by a rhetoric that continues to equate youthfulness with political naivety. As we have stated elsewhere young people are the pulse of the nation- we are not the leaders of tomorrow only but of today as well.
The campaign period was generally peaceful, with some liberty for youth candidates to campaign around the country. The LNYB worked with Political Parties Youth Wings through the Joint Liaison Committee (JYLC) to advocate for peace through a Youth Peace Pledge and series of dialogues. On Election Day 30 July 2018 Leave No Youth Behind observers, observed the elections at different polling stations across the country; their reports largely indicate that proper procedures were undertaken by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) in administering the opening of the day, administrative arrangements for polling were in place in most polling stations witnessed although logistical problems were also reported in several other areas.
NAYO said the post voting period was marred by violence that started in the city of Harare, following delays in announcement of results by Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC). Mostly young people took to the streets to protest. Both political parties denied the ownership of the youth, though mostly were seen in opposition colours and regalia.
“In an act contrary to Ubuntu and reminiscent of the many young people who perished in the battlefield during the anti-colonial struggles, at least six people were reported to be killed and many more injured when security forces used live ammunition against protesters in the capital Harare, as the country awaited the results. Riot police and military in armoured vehicles swept through the streets, targeting bystanders and forcing others to shutter businesses and return home. Several journalists covering the event were intimidated and forced to stop working. The release of the results of the 30 July elections and the actions of the army and riot police have brought back traumatic memories of decades of repression suffered by Zimbabweans, under the regime of ousted President Robert Mugabe. The use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians can never be justified,” Gondo said
The youth organisation said the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly is enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution. The government and all state institutions including the uniformed forces were urged to exercise restraint and respect these fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully as provided for under Section 20 of the Constitution to put in place mechanisms to protect youth from exploitation and manipulation which is rife during electoral periods for the political ends of political elites.
In light of LNYB involvement in the 2018 electoral cycle and having deployed observers, it thus make a number of key recommendations to an array of actors which include the Zimbabwe Election Commission, political parties and civil society.
Recognising that the economic hardships currently being experienced in Zimbabwe created a dangerous subtext to the 2018 election, it called for the successful resolution of the economic question.
State institutions, including traditional leaders were urged to do all that is possible to win back the legitimacy, trust, confidence of the people as they are believed not to be serving the interests of Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) was encouraged to improve its communication, transparency and accountability to stakeholders; and to share accurate information to political parties, citizens and stakeholders in all phases of the electoral cycle. The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) should have been more inclusive, transparent and effective in updating the nation and responding to complaints, NAYO said.
The youths called for the licensing of private media broadcasters by the state especially in the television and radio sector. State media is encouraged to uphold the constitution by not being partisan. That broadcast media is blatantly controlled by the ruling party creates a dangerous reality and perception of an uneven playing field. Social media continues to be an outlet for pent up emotions that have no expression and that at times becomes violence, which violence could have been avoided if communication platforms where available.
The youths condemned in the strongest terms the invoking of draconian and restrictive laws as witnessed when Zimbabwean authorities invoked the restrictive Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and outdated Police Act to enable the armed forces to intervene. All state institutions were mandated to uphold the constitution and where a breach of the law happens, either because of unlawful instructions or overzealous operational staff, justice should be delivered swiftly on behalf of those that would have been affected.
In the same realm, the youths noted that there is need for extensive voter education especially targeted at youth and first time voters in both rural and urban areas with emphasis given to the secrecy of the vote and the importance of political participation.
They added that there should be the immediate resolution of logistical issues that disenfranchised many through legalistic requirements such as proof of residence, the lack of national registration documents, and non-appearance on voters roll even with registration slips. This should be coupled by the introduction of measures to ensure that those in the diaspora eventually vote since if the nation loves their remittances then definitely they should also have a say in our politics.
The government and political parties were called upon to place progressive provisions that allow the participation of youth in politics especially as party candidates. Most of the youth candidates stood as independent candidates with very little financing for their campaigns. Current provisions within the constitution are restrictive for youth to access public office.
The youths bemoaned the fact that accreditation fee still remains high for citizens, especially youth who may want to take part as observers so accreditation must be decentralised to ensure greater participation of citizens, youth and any other interested stakeholders. Critical reforms must be done to the Electoral Act and realign it with the national constitution, the youths said.
“As the Leave No Youth Behind team, we remain committed to sustaining efforts towards a peaceful nation in which many young women and men participate in social, political and economic processes. As noted in our Interim Statement, the 2018 harmonised elections were largely peaceful in the pre-election period and ZEC’s performance in the 2018 elections was below the expectation of the Zimbabwean populace.
“ZEC’s attitude and performance must be rectified if future elections are to be taken seriously in this country. Political parties must avoid hate speech and acts that cause violence during the entire electoral process and, the respect of women should be a priority for all political actors. We urge all political parties to utilise peaceful, legal and constitutional means in a case where there are disagreements with the electoral outcome. It is our conclusion that the 2018 harmonised elections noted some improvements but lacked fairness and freeness.”