Pro-democracy movements in Zimbabwe endorsing PR

by Eve Robert // Published June 16, 2009

In May, two pro-democracy NGOs, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Electoral Institute of Southern African (EISA), released a report that , emphasized the need "for a paradigm shift and for Zimbabwe to embrace more inclusive and participatory electoral systems." These should result," the report said, "in a win-win situation that minimises the occurrence of electoral conflict and maximises the participation of women and minority groups, such as the Proportional Representation and the Mixed Electoral Systems."

Small political parties, such as the Federal Democratic Union (FDU), and women groups also endorsed the idea of proportional representation. Zimbabwean women are indeed feeling excluded from the new, male-dominated unity government. According to Luta Shaba, director of the Women's Trust, "Women want a new constitution that abolishes the first-past-the-post electoral system to enshrine proportional representation," Ms Shaba said. "Only through proportional representation can women, together with other previously marginalised groups,rise.The present electoral system encourages viciousness, and when you have a dog-eat-dog scenario to attaining political office, even political parties feel constrained in accommodating women," she explained to The National.

This growing chorus in favor of proportional representation may lead to actual electoral system changes quite quickly, since Zimbabwe is currently considering writing a new Constitution. A 25-member select parliamentary committee comprising legislators from the three parties in the coalition government has been named and initial targets set (even though the committee lacks funds to kick-start the constitution-making process).

A new constitution, leading to the holding of fresh polls, is largely viewed as key to full democratization of Zimbabwe. It is also supposed to bring solutions to the political stalemate in which the country has been deadlocked since the 2008 elections, when violence rose between President Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC. In this regard, proportional representation would help in avoiding such violence, since it often naturally results in coalition governments.