The world recently witnessed a successfully-run FIFA World Cup. Everyone knew the rules, the referees were neutral and independent; no one knew who the winner would be.
In too many elections in Africa the opposite is true: Often the rules are made at the last minute and not sufficiently publicised, the referee, i.e. the body running the elections, is neither impartial nor independent; the outcome is often known.
What about the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe?
Are the Rules Clear and Known?
No they are not:
- The Electoral Act is long and complex and has been amended so often that its provisions sometimes contradict each other. Very few people, even lawyers, know the Act fully.
- The most recent amendments to the Act – and they were extensive – came into force just two days before the elections were called. There was not enough time for them to become widely known.
- The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] refused requests to make its internal rules more widely known and to publish its procedural manuals in time for stakeholder and observer scrutiny.
Is the Zimbabwe Election Commission Independent, Neutral and Impartial?
Only to some extent:
- It is not clear how far it has delegated its functions to bodies outside its control, such as the National Logistics Committee, which is an inter-ministerial committee set up to provide logistical support for ZEC.
- It is not clear how far ZEC is influenced by the ruling political party and embedded military personnel.
ZEC’s general obfuscation has not helped. ZEC has taken weeks to answer questions raised by the public, if it has answered them at all, and at press conferences its spokespersons have given contradictory statements.
Is ZEC Ready for the Election?
That remains to be seen, but the auguries are not promising:
- ZEC’s preparations gave the impression they were running to catch up with a train already in motion – and this after having had 5 years to plan.
- They have not done enough voter education and some of it has been confusing.
- Their dilatoriness has forced stakeholders to take to the courts and ZEC has spent time and money defending indefensible court cases.
Integrity of the New Voter’s Roll
ZEC refused an external audit of the voters roll – as a result a number of different analyses have been made and although ZEC refutes some of the glaring disparities, the refutations have not been credible. But instead of working through these analyses to see what could be rectified, ZEC have said discrepancies either were non-existent, very few or were either a result of misinformation from the Registrar General’s Office or alternatively they referred discrepancies to back to the R-G. As the whole exercise of a new voters roll was to avoid all the errors attributed to the R-G’s office in the past – this has not gone down well.
There were delays in the de-duplication exercise because of dilatory tender procedures. Letters written to the chief executive officer, after a voters roll was made available to candidates and other stakeholders, asking whether the roll had been de-duplicated received no reply.
It is an unknown whether the wide range of errors claimed by various analysts could affect outcomes in key areas.
Nor is it known whether the roll has been tampered with. ZEC admitted that it might have been hacked or that there may have been a leakage within ZEC, which are both criminal offences and should not be left to an internal ZEC inquiry but should be properly investigated by the police. It is something observers should look into. The SADC guidelines for observers specifically say [section 1.9] that the increasing use of technology in elections mean that observers should have capabilities on their teams to look into accusations of this sort.
Of utmost seriousness, the MDC Alliance and key civil society observers claim they have not yet been supplied with the final version of the voters roll. This is in total defiance of the Electoral Act
There was lack of transparency in the format, printing, chain of custody and transport of ballot papers. ZEC had the constitutional discretion to make this process open, but refused to do so. But on the other hand they were willing to break the Electoral law in the design of the presidential ballot paper – giving an unfair advantage to the ZANU-PF candidate.
Is ZEC Trusted?
To regain people’s trust, ZEC must surmount its history in previous elections, when its questionable conduct and lack of transparency were used to ensure the ruling party’s electoral dominance.
The current President is perceived as having played a leading role in winning past elections for Mugabe by illegal means and by unleashing violence, and he is now at the helm. He has stated he wants free and fair elections, but has enough been done to dismantle past machinery and habits?
The judiciary has not helped to build trust in the electoral system. Public-interest court cases to ensure transparency and to build up trust in the electoral system have been contested by ZEC and the government or by ZANU-PF, and courts have dismissed the cases on obscure technicalities which ensure that bias and lack of transparency remain entrenched.
According to a survey by Afro Barometer, 45% Zimbabweans thought that incorrect electoral results would be announced. Only 53% of respondents thought ZEC neutral. A survey by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches showed 59% of registered voters thought much of the rigging during election was done by ZEC.
Does Each Party have an Equal Opportunity of Winning?
Use of State Resources by One Party
A court case to stop the abuse of school property for political purposes and the bussing of school children to ZANU-PF rallies was won, and applauded by the UN. But ZANU-PF appealed and won their appeal. What does it say when one party feels it cannot go into an election without using government property [Zimbabweans pay taxes to government not to the party] and when it has to bus school children to swell numbers at their rallies?
Use of government vehicles, breakdown services, petrol allocations, helicopters etc by the ruling party needs to be looked into.
It has been reported that parastatals have been ordered to provide buses for ZANU-PF voters
Misuse of food aid
Food aid is being distributed to supporters of one party only – the ruling party. IRIN [world humanitarian news agency] has reported that food aid is being distributed along party political lines. This supports previous reports by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Zimbabwe Peace Project and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Traditional Leaders Captured by Ruling Party
The conflation of the ruling party and the State has led to traditional leaders being issued with new vehicles and other perks in exchange for political support. For many years it has been made clear to them that they are expected to get their communities to vote ZANU-PF. As they live in communities and know most of what goes on, they wield a very big influence over voters.
Fear of Retribution
This is especially strong in rural areas where a whole community probably vote at one polling station – lessons of past retribution have been well learnt.
Laws restricting civil liberties
Oppressive laws governing access to information, public order and security and interception of communication are still on the statute books and have a chilling effect on opposition discourse.
The publicly-owned media – ZBC, ZTV and the newspapers published by Zimpapers are outrageously biased in favour of ZANU-PF.
In can be concluded that the opposition continued to face a persistent organizational and resource disadvantage against a State-funded/assisted ruling party.
As in many post-liberation war countries, there is an embedded military presence in all arms of government. Victory for the ruling party in past elections has been attributed to the role of the military. Military involvement in government culminated last year in the replacement of President Mugabe with the military’s choice, President Mnangagwa.
How much will the military be a factor in these elections?
- 15% of ZEC staff is known to be from the military – but the extent of its influence on ZEC is unknown.
- The military say they will follow the Constitution in recognising the outcome of the elections – this is an ambiguous phrase, as they said they were following the Constitution in replacing President Mugabe.
- For 37 years the people of Zimbabwe have lived in fear of the security forces and youth militias during election periods – this fear has influenced voting in the past.
- Human rights monitors have reported considerable military presence in rural communities. The military, which has for long been linked to the current President, also has a presence in farming areas as they are heavily involved in command agriculture [crops and livestock] introduced by the current President.
- According to a survey by Afrobarometer this month, 44% of Zimbabweans thought the armed forces would not respect the election result.
Will the Election Results be Verifiable?
Will everyone be able to see that the elections have been verifiably conducted according to the Constitution so that the outcome is acceptable to all? Regrettably no, because ZEC has shown so little transparency that there cannot be sufficient criteria for verifiability.