28 January 2018

Zimbabwe: Opposition Expresses Misgivings Over Election Preparedness

Photo: IRIN
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President Emmerson Mnangagwa is under pressure to deliver free, fair and credible elections if the country is to stand any chance of improving its relations with the West, revive the comatose economy and achieve national healing.

Previous Zimbabwean elections have been marred by violence and intimidation of opposition supporters mostly by the ruling Zanu PF's supporters and suspected state agents.

With less than five months left before the general elections, civic groups and opposition parties say more has to be done by Mnangagwa's administration to deliver on his promise for a free and fair election.

Charged with delivering polls is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), which has been affected by underfunding and whose credibility is heavily tainted by the composition of its secretariat which is made up of mostly military people. The electoral body has in the past been accused of stealing polls through acts of commission and omission.

Zec acting chairperson Emanuel Magade has declared that it is possible for Zimbabwe to hold elections within the next five months and deliver an undisputed result.

Constitutionally, elections are due by July in line with Section 158 of the Constitution which reads, "an election must be held so that polling takes place not more than 30 days before the expiration of the life of parliament."

Parliament expires five years from the day the president takes the oath of office, which means the life of this parliament will expires on August 22.

"That is the legal position and his [president's] call for elections in five months is in line with the law and that, Zec is prepared for. The issue of whether or not we will be ready to conduct that election is a clear yes; [we will hold them] in a free and fair manner that produces a credible result," said Magade.

Zec is faced with a herculean task of producing the first-ever biometric voters roll which will again for the first time be polling station based in Zimbabwe. Independent election observers say the new voters' roll is the crux of the elections.

Magade says Zec is on the road to do this and would be able to produce a provisional voters' roll by mid-March. The roll will lie open for inspection and corrections before a final roll can be made available.

Voter registration will close on February 8, thereafter ZEC will need at least three weeks to come up with a provisional roll, which roll will be open for inspection for another three weeks.

A final voters' roll is expected around May, giving opposition political parties and other interested institutions just enough time to go through the roll.

If elections are held in July, the voters, roll must be ready by end of May for it to pass the credibility test.

A budget of $274 million, mostly in hard foreign currency, is needed to run the polls, according to Zec -- a huge amount for a nation reeling under a huge financial meltdown.

"We are receiving massive government support and we are getting resources as and when they are needed, with our budgets being met, we will be able to deliver that election," Magade said.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said the country had the infrastructure to hold elections, adding the slightly more five million people so far registered under the BVR were enough to hold polls.

Zesn national director Rindai Vava Chipfunde said it was not the logistics, but mostly the political will to reform and pave way to a free and credible poll that was needed.

"There needs to be political will on fundamental reforms, which include access to the state-controlled media, dealing with issues of intimidation of voters who are being forced to release their voting slips to headmen and other party officials.

"If these things are effectively dealt with, then elections can reflect the will of the people," she said.

Elections Resource Centre (ERC) director Tawanda Chimhini said people should stop worrying about timing as it was the administrative framework that mattered.

Chimhini said there were issues that required urgent attention for the 2018 elections to be credible.

"Election-related laws need to be fully aligned with the Constitution and adequate time must be allowed to operationalise the changes to have material effect on the quality of the electoral processes leading up to the poll," he said.

"The administrative framework of our election needs to be strengthened to enhance transparency, accountability and inclusivity. Finally, the political environment must be conducive for free expression by citizens. We may be left with very limited time till the next election but it will come down to how effectively we use the remaining time which will make the difference. If we decide to waste the remaining time then we are headed for yet another disputed poll."

MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said the political will was lacking and what Mnangagwa is saying is not in sync with what's happening on the ground.

"Headmen and chiefs are demanding and taking down serial numbers from voter registration slips for registered voters, this does not point anywhere near a free and fair election. We have a plan and will not allow the people of Zimbabwe to be pushed into a farce and sham election," he said.

National People's Party (NPP) led by former Zanu PF vice president Joice Mujuru, has also raised fears of a rigged election, but said her party was prepared to win against all odds.

Speaking through spokesperson Gift Nyandoro, Mujuru said: "All the reforms are about willpower. Removing the army and state security from Zec does not need five months."

"To make ZBC a national broadcaster and not a Zanu PF broadcaster does not need five months. To stop threats and vote buying does not need five months. Everything is clearly laid out in the Constitution and it does not need five months in order to have will-power to respect the polls. In the absence of willpower, should we allow the regime a freeway to the throne? The answer is no. At all cost, democracy should and will be protected."

Mnangagwa last week promised to deal with all the concerns, saying Zimbabwe should never be let down by a disputed poll but instead needs a new chapter that strengthens democracy.

Mnangagwa's announcement that elections would be held earlier than July created controversy.

Constitutional lawyer and MDC president Welshmen Ncube was quick to challenge Mnangagwa on the constitutionality of his statement.

"How does Mnangagwa call an election to be held earlier than July when Section 158 of the Constitution says an election must be held so that polling takes place not more than 30 days before the expiration of the life of parliament on 22 August 2018?"

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