Zimbabwe and elections: Part One…will 2018 break the curse?


IF events of the past weeks are anything to go by, Government should prepare itself for a potentially violent election.
While President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been preaching peace and emphasising the importance of having a clean election, as this is the gateway to further re-engagement with the international community and unlocking investment, it would seem there are deliberate efforts to create chaos and disturbances that would discredit the forth coming elections.
Last week, Obert Gutu quit the MDC-T citing violence in that party.
A few days before that, MDC-T deputy president Thokozani Khupe and the secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora, had been accosted by party youths at the burial of the late Morgan Tsvangirai and had to flee for their dear lives.
Some days back, there were clashes at Harare Central Police Station that resulted in some citizens forcing their way into the police station.
If news reports are anything to go by, our former President comes across as a bitter man, who, instead of enjoying his retirement, longs to be back in office.
These events and incidents should not be taken for passing actions, but must be analysed in the context of the upcoming elections.
According to the new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson, Judge Prisca Chigumba, the 2018 elections are to be held between July and August and that is four months from now.
What this means is, Zimbabwe is currently in election mode and here in the US, this is that time when the campaign trail would be reaching its fever pitch.
Given Zimbabwe’s past history with the international community, now would be the time for the new dispensation to prove Government’s modus operandi has changed.
Where recommendations were met with disdain, where efforts at engagement were spurned, now is the time to show that the ‘gear’ has shifted.
Why do I say this?
That Zimbabwe was being treated as a pariah state is not up for debate.
Our rankings on most global indices were poor and, more often than not, our competition were war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, among others.
While there might be prejudices and bias on the part of most of the companies that carry out these surveys and give out rankings, even as a people, we had acknowledged that there was a problem in our country, and Operation Restore Legacy is testament to this.
Zimbabwe is expected to hold elections soon and with this election comes a whole lot of processes that have to be observed by various entities, including the SADC, the AU and others.
Recently, the EU pronounced itself that critical steps towards re-engagement would include the holding of ‘peaceful, inclusive, credible and transparent elections’.
While, as Zimbabweans, our default setting might want to brush aside such assertions, the reality is, we need not just the region, but the international community to be on board as we move forward.
A legitimacy crisis will perpetuate the economic doldrums and provide a platform for continued mismanagement and corruption.
In 2013, the AU Observer Mission to the Zimbabwe harmonised elections report stated that: “The July 31 2013 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe were professionally and successfully conducted by the ZEC despite the financial, time and staff constraints.”
The Observer Mission, however, made the following recommendations:
l While in the end, the ZEC was provided the necessary resources to conduct the July 31 2013 harmonised elections, the AUEOM observed with concern, that the funding was not consistent or timely at various stages and tended to generate undue anxieties.
To this end, it is recommended that there be greater transparency on; and adequate provisions of; logistics and resources to the ZEC for organising elections as prescribed in the OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002).
l The Voters’ Roll should be made available to all stakeholders for verification and inspection, in both electronic and hard copy format, at least 14 days before elections.
The integrity of the voters’ roll must be assured through greater transparency, accessibility and public communication, with strict adherence to the provisions of the relevant statutes in laws of Zimbabwe.
l There should be sustained public communication regarding the time-frames for special and intensive voter registration exercises and the closing dates thereof; to avoid unnecessary disputes and complaints.
l The AUEOM recognises the complexities of the special voting and the necessity of it, in equal measure.
The special vote allows for uniformed forces and the ZEC officials deployed on election day to cast their vote so as to dedicate time to electoral security, management and administration.
As noted earlier, this facility has engendered transparency in the conduct of these special votes, which were previously not subject to independent domestic or foreign observation.
However, to ease the strain on the ZEC, it is recommended that further exploration be made by the ZEC among member-states employing this facility to find ways of lubricating the process. Further, the requirements for persons to be afforded special voting privileges, may need to be subjected to inter-party and public dialogue to enable consensus-based outcomes.
l Security markings on ballot papers need to be improved (as in some instances, observers noted the poor quality of the inscriptions) to prevent any possibility of duplication.
l Zimbabwean authorities should reconsider the use of police officers in assisting voters as it may unduly influence the manner in which they vote.
In future, authorities might wish to consider the reduction of parameters that necessitate persons to qualify as ‘assisted voters’. The number of persons allowed to ‘assist’ voters should also be reviewed with a view to reducing it downward from four.
l While the AUEOM acknowledges that the 6,4 million registered voters in the 2013 harmonised elections was relatively high, it calls for the greater involvement of non-state actors in civic and voter education throughout the democratic process to enhance and sustain participation in elections in future.
To this end, consideration must be made to review relevant sections of the Electoral Act to enable the wider involvement of civil society in these processes.
l The lack of/or limited access to the state broadcaster was one of the most persistent complaints from opposition parties and non-state actors in the pre-election and election phases, and has been the subject of post-election disputes.
The role of the media, particularly the state broadcaster, has been well articulated and is relevant.
These eight issues could make up part of the starting point for Zimbabwe’s road to the 2018 harmonised elections.
Taking into cognisance the time frame provided by Justice Chigumba, long-term observers should be on the ground soon.
Some of the issues are now defunct, but new matters such as the violence narrative are arising.
Next week we explore the violence narrative and the siege mentality and how these are a threat to the country’s elections being seen as ‘free, fair and credible’.


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