28 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Disputed Polls Loom

ANOTHER disputed election is looming unless principals in the moribund inclusive government nip in the bud the resurgence of political violence, intimidation of ZANU-PF's political opponents and the crackdown on civil society organisations, The Financial Gazette has established.

There has been a groundswell of discontent within civil society and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations in the past week due to mounting politically-motivated violence and police blitzkrieg on non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The international community, which is keenly following the country's progression towards polls is not amused by the latest incidents.

This week, the European Union and the United States, which slapped President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle with travel and financial restrictions in 2001 citing electoral fraud and gross human rights abuses, expressed concern over a credible election, citing the persecution of those perceived to be opposed to ZANU-PF.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), accused of being complicit in the violence that mired the 2008 polls along with other State security agents, on Monday told Parliament they have launched an offensive against NGOs. They have also outlawed broadcasts from Studio 7, a Washington DC-based radio station that beams into the country.

The ZANU-PF side of government considers Studio 7 and other foreign radio stations as agents of a regime change agenda.

Innocent Matibiri, the ZRP deputy commissioner-general in charge of operations, told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs that 99 percent of the NGOs operating in Zimbabwe were Western-sponsored.

By denying citizens the right to access information and freedom of expression, the MDC parties claimed yesterday that the police were being partisan in favour of ZANU-PF, which enjoys a monopoly over State-owned radio and television.

Evidence on the ground also suggests that ZANU-PF has not changed its modus operandi when dealing with its perceived or real political opponents.

The death of 12-year-old son of MDC-T parliamentary aspirant, Shepherd Maisiri at the weekend in a suspected petrol bomb attack in Manicaland has heightened fears of a repeat of the 2008 election violence in which over 200 people aligned to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party died and thousands injured.

Christpower Maisiri, the 12-year-old boy, died when a house he was sleeping in with four other siblings was burnt down on Saturday night by suspected ZANU-PF activists.

Nelson Chamisa, the MDC-T organising secretary, said the re-emergence of violence could discredit the upcoming polls.

"This is how it began in 2008. We are seeing the genesis for another season of violence, a winter of suffering. This will discredit any plebiscite in this country; the credibility of the forthcoming elections will be called into question," he said.

Kurauone Chihwayi, the deputy spokesperson for Welshman Ncube's MDC, echoed Chamisa's concerns.

"We are very worried as a party by the recent events such as the Headlands violence. It shows that there is no willingness to create a peaceful environment ahead of elections. ZANU-PF has proved that it is an insincere partner in the inclusive government," said Chihwayi.

Recent incidents of violence with in ZANU-PF itself are also indicative of more bad things to come, according to observers.

At the weekend, the liberation war party's parliamentary hopeful, Temba Mliswa was arrested over disturbances in which his opponent in primary elections, Sarah Mahoka was beaten up in Hurungwe.

ZANU-PF has refused to claim responsibility for the violence, accusing the MDCs of "manufacturing or stage-managing" incidents of violence to discredit the forthcoming polls.

"That is their strategy to paint an ugly picture so that they discredit the elections," said Rugare Gumbo, ZANU-PF's spokesperson.

On Tuesday, President Mugabe ordered police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri to arrest all perpetrators of violence.

Observers, however, said his directive would not change anything given that previous calls for peace and tolerance by the incumbent and the premier had fallen on deaf ears.

The observers said it was evident that the stage had been set for another disputed poll.

On Saturday, the MDC-T had to abort a rally in Chinhoyi after it was disrupted by ZANU-PF youths.

Thereafter, the MDC-T had to move around the farming town dishing out party regalia, even throwing them to the ground for supporters to pick.

The Financial Gazette witnessed firsthand a tense atmosphere in Chinhoyi where a group of between 15 to 20 ZANU-PF youths were threatening to crush MDC-T activists at one farm who dare to don the labour-backed party's regalia.

Further escalating fears of a disputed poll is that the proposed new constitution to go to a referendum on March 16 has not done much to level the political playing field.

In their analysis of the proposed new constitution, the Research Advocacy Unit (RAU) and the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) said the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) draft charter was bereft of any democratic ideals.

Significantly, the constitutional scorecard produced by the two think-tanks concluded that the COPAC draft was still the same as the Lancaster House Constitution when it comes to the conduct of elections.

RAU and IDASA observed that sections covering executive authority and the civil service were undemocratic.

Also worthy of note is that the constitutional scorecard rated all other chapters as "short of the democratic ideal" while only the founding provisions of the draft were classified "as close to the democratic ideal as possible".

This effectively means that President Mugabe still has the levers of power to swing the political pendulum in his favour come election time.

An announcement by Vice President Joice Mujuru that the country would not entertain any western election observers has also increased tensions in the inclusive government. It is now dawning on the MDC formations that ZANU-PF has not shifted an inch from its ideology and approach as witnessed by the language the VP used.

Speaking at the burial of Zimbabwe's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, John Mayowe, at the National Heroes' Acre at the weekend, VP Mujuru said hostile governments sought to infiltrate the country under the cover of election monitoring.

She said Zimbabwe would only allow observers from southern Africa to monitor its harmonised elections adding that the country should remain vigilant in the face of a protracted western onslaught aimed at meddling in Zimbabwe's internal political processes.

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