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Electoral reforms are urgently needed

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YET another election, but the same problems.

NYASHA CHINGONO

Zimbabwe has already endured nearly 42 years of disputed elections, as Zanu PF’s unholy alliance with electoral authorities continues unabated.

Last weekend’s by-elections, like many other elections since 1980, were marred with electoral malpractice, with the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) calling for sweeping electoral reforms.

The opposition continues to sing the same melancholic hymn of reforms in the face of a brutal regime which has been accused of rigging polls in favour of the incumbent, year after year.

For a country with what, on paper, looks like a relatively progressive constitution, in which a level playing field for all political parties is guaranteed, including media coverage and the right to assemble, the repeated manipulation of the vote is seen as a mockery of the supreme law of the land.

It also negates the democratic tenets upon which the nation is supposedly founded on.

In the run up to the 26 March by-elections, the state unleashed a massive clampdown on the opposition CCC, with anti-riot police squashing four rallies, while the ruling Zanu PF enjoyed free reign around the country.

CCC also endured Zanu PF brutality which led to the murder of party supporter Mboneni Ncube in Kwekwe. He was stabbed to death while 22 others were injured.

This is on top of the several arrests around the country as the state descended on the opposition party which has proved to be one of the fastest-rising political outfits in the country.

While this reads like an old script, it is disheartening that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government which calls itself the “New Dispensation” has resorted to old tricks to silence the opposition.

Mnangagwa, widely regarded the chief enforcer of former President Robert Mugabe’s regime, presented himself as a reformist when he rose to the top following a military coup in 2017.

However, he squandered the goodwill of the world, which had rallied behind him when Mugabe was removed from power.

The “New Dispensation” façade came off in dramatic fashion as the world saw through the deceit of his new rhetoric which lacked implementation of widespread political reforms.

The murder of six unarmed  civilians in central Harare on 1 August 2018 and 17 more the following year, would ostracise Mnangagwa from the international community, which he desperately sought to rejoin after the coup.

Apart from the extrajudicial killings which happened on his watch and state repression on human rights defenders, including journalists, the ghost of disputed elections has continued to haunt Mnangagwa.

He was declared winner after a Constitutional Court battle which ruled in his favour.

Not just because he belonged to a regime implicated in electoral theft, but that Mnangagwa has continued treading Mugabe’s ruinous path by attempting to steal the vote from the opposition through intimidation of voters, among other rigging mechanisms.

Civil society groups, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), noted that the ruling party was engaged in massive vote buying, especially in the rural areas.

An old trick, which seems to work all the time, vote buying has been used to woo voters through trinkets including foodstuffs for desperate Zimbabweans.

“ERC and Zesn noted activities that qualified as vote-buying during the campaign period, which included the use of food and so on ahead of by-elections,” read their statement.

During the by-election, CCC president Nelson Chamisa bemoaned Zec’s failure to provide clear indelible ink. The opposition accused the electoral body of exposing the voting process to manipulation and double voting.

Some voters also failed to find their names on the voters’ roll, election observers alleged, while in some wards there was a disproportionately large number of assisted voters.

Assisted voting is largely viewed as a plot to sway the vote. This is closely linked to directives by some traditional chiefs for families to register their names at polling stations. Observers say this is tantamount to intimidation.

Chamisa, whose party won 19 out of 28 parliamentary seats at the weekend, said rural Zimbabwe had been marred with rigging.

“What we have now is 19 seats out of the contested 28 which is an emphatic victory and landslide show by the citizens.

“Had it not been for rigging and other shenanigans particularly in the countryside we would be talking about almost 26 out of 28 but, tell you what, the citizens are clear and have made a bold statement,” Chamisa told journalists in Harare.

Chamisa, who described the result as a resounding success, said the elections were neither free nor fair.

Some CCC candidates also complained of Zec’s failure to provide the voters’ roll before the polls.

Team Pachedu, a pressure group with an interest in transparency, accountability and democracy, says it has discovered that the names of at least 165 000 people were moved to different wards and constituencies without notification, leading to confusion and some people having to travel long distances to vote.

Commenting on Zec’s conduct in the elections, Chamisa said: “There is nothing that will stop us from forming the next government, yes challenges are there. Zec still has to reform. Electoral reforms must be implemented, and we have said those reforms have to be put in place. That is why we have written to Sadc to help us,” Chamisa said.

But the by-elections, which are the largest held in the country, carried high stakes for the opposition.

The CCC, formed after losing the battle for the party name in what analysts say was a state-sponsored onslaught on the opposition, enjoys public goodwill and emerged as a major winner in last weekend’s polls.

Although Zanu PF made inroads into opposition territory, the CCC has proven to be a force to reckon with on the political arena.

Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said there is no political will to reform.

“You cannot reform yourself out of power,” he said.

He added that Zec should be independently resourced to ensure a free and fair election.

“We need to ensure that the electoral body is well-resourced and independent from the state structures. Electoral reform must not be done just before elections but a year after the previous ones. If Zec can run a free election, it should be independently resourced,” Nkomo added.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Zimbabwe is still stuck in Mugabe-era politics. He urged opposition parties to continue participating in electoral processes despite the hurdles.

“We are still stuck in the same old politics of violence, manipulated electoral processes and violent electoral management body because there is no political will to democratise the electoral processes,” Mukundu said.

“Opposition political parties must continue to participate in elections, must continue to challenge the weaknesses and inefficiencies of Zec. It is important to look at elections not as an end in themselves but part of a broader strategy of democratisation.”

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