POLITICAL analyst Ibbo Mandaza says Zimbabwe will only hold free and fair elections when the country addresses deep-seated electoral concerns that have hampered plebiscites since 1980.
Mandaza said while the Zimbabwean opposition has been rejuvenated by the Zambian elections, where President Hakainde Hichilema replaced Edgar Lungu in a smooth transfer of power, there must be a strategy to curb electoral theft. He was speaking at a conference organised by the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute in Harare this week.
“Facing elections in 2023 is not a trivial task for Zimbabweans, no matter how encouraging the results from elections in Malawi and Zambia. Thus, we must be able to see where the problems are in detail and have a strategy to overcome these, or at least be able to describe them in sufficient detail to foster strong international pressure for the needed reforms. Failing this, the exposure must be sufficient to call the election unfree and unfair prior to the poll, and pose an alternative to accepting another illegitimate election in Zimbabwe,” Mandaza said.
Electoral theft has become a cancerous practice that negates the will of the people, he noted. He said lethargy in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) with regards to reversing this anomaly continues to affect electoral outcomes.
“It is doubtful that there has ever been a fully democratic election in Zimbabwe since (and including) 1980. However, it is abundantly clear that every single election since 2000 has been disputed on good grounds, never tested adequately in the courts, resulted in international opprobrium, and has resulted in Zimbabwe being the most politically polarised country in Africa,” Mandaza added.
“It is also evident that virtually every form of electoral irregularity that can be described has been present in Zimbabwean elections since 2000 and, even when the opposition wins an election, as in 2008, there is little appetite in the region to compel Zanu PF to cede political power, this in spite of the fact that Sadc and the AU were in full knowledge that Zanu PF has not won any of the elections since 2000.”
He also said the census that will be conducted before the 2023 elections should be carefully managed to deal with disputes of delimitation and the number of voters in a constituency.
“The census, which should be completed before the election, must be carefully analysed for the likely distribution of voters per constituency. The numbers will guide delimitation and allow a challenge when voter registration exceeds the number of probable voters in a constituency. For example, in 2013 there were 63 constituencies that had more voters than indicated by the census. In 2018, 64% of rural constituencies had male/female ratios greater than the national average, probably a mixture of party affiliation, enthusiasm for participation and coercion,” Mandaza added.
To achieve a free and fair election, Mandaza proposed that the presidential poll should not be held as a separate poll.
“Removal of the presidential poll as a separate poll, make election of the president a party nominee as in South Africa. This means that the party puts forward their candidates for president and vice-president, and an elected president remains subject to the party who can recall if needed. Again, the South African experience is advisory.
These two changes would almost certainly reduce the problems about registration: all parties would want as many people registered as possible in order to maximise their presence in Parliament,” Mandaza added.
Zimbabwe has a history of disputed elections, with the opposition MDC accusing Zanu PF of rigging the 2008 and 2018 elections.
The ruling party’s stranglehold on power has been necessitated by the use of force, intimidation and vote manipulation, a situation that has heightened concerns of another disputed election ahead of 2023. The failure by political parties to observe the printing of ballots and assess the voters’ roll has also affected the credibility of polls since 2000 when the MDC presented itself as an alternative to Zanu PF.
“All registered political parties must be able to directly observe printing of ballots, accompany ballots to the secure place where they will be kept, and observe the allocation of ballots to constituencies as per the roll, and including the 10% needed in case of errors, losses, etc. This would be even more transparent if accredited observers, local, regional and international were able to participate. The final tallies per constituency should be made public,” he said.
“Long-term independent observers in the pre-election period, and not just the 90 days, there must be credible regional and international observation, with observers placed within Zec, the ZHR, civil society to ensure accountability of all processes, and to investigate all allegations of violence, intimidation, treating, etc. This was very useful in the 1994 electoral process in South Africa,” Mandaza said.
The publication of results at polling stations has also been problematic with opposition poll observers often failing to gain access to primary residue that proves electoral rigging.
“Recording and publicising results, when it comes to the vote, any citizen should be able to record the final result at a polling station in any manner seen fit and to be able to publish the result. If the result is final and published outside the polling station, then it is public and there can be no restriction in distributing it. Any interference with someone recording a result should be a criminal offence. This is the “protect your vote” component of the campaign, and should allow radio stations and the Press to publish results as they come in. This is highly abused by requiring only Zec to release results,” he said.