Is Zimbabwe Ready For Elections?

Two years after a violent infested election left more than 200 Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters murdered, political analysts believe that the wounds of the brutality have not yet healed to conduct other elections although people are crying out for change.

Analysts believe another election can only be conducted if the conditions have improved drastically. In the 2008 run-off elections
 preparations, soldiers, Zanu (PF) youth brigades and militias went on the rampage throughout the country setting up torture bases for perceived MDC supporters who had dealt a hammer blow to Mugabe.

Some had parts of their bodies cut off while others were simply murdered and burnt. Their only crime was that they had voted for Tsvangirai against ageing dictator Mugabe.

Admittedly people are against the current arrangement where despite losing elections, Mugabe is still the president while Tsvangirai, the winner of the elections, but who came short of the absolute majority, is playing second fiddle to the 86-year-old Zimbabwe leader.

What angers people is that Mugabe still wields excessive powers as he is the commander in chief of the Defence Forces and Head of State.  Effectively Zanu (PF) is still so much in power that they are virtually operating the same way as before the inclusive government was formed.  Human rights defenders, journalists and MDC supporters are still being arrested and harassed. People are desperate for elections to democratically choose a leader of their choice not a leader by negotiation at the table
Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights (ZJHR) chairman and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC) official, Pedzisayi Ruhanya, says while elections to choose a democratic leader should be held he believes the environment has to be improved.

“Zimbabwe cannot be ready for elections next year unless the issues of democratic electoral processes are addressed. These include addressing the issue of violence which gripped the 2008 elections and addressing repressive laws.

“These issues infringe on the fundamental rights of the people to freely elect their leaders. Zanu (PF) is still in power because of terror and we are likely to face the same situation next year if elections are held because one thing for certain is that Mugabe is not ready to lose power at the moment.

“If elections are held under the current environment, they will be open to abuse and fraud by Zanu (PF). We must have an election free from interference by soldiers and the militia. Yes, people want a new and proper government but they will not be given an opportunity to elect leaders of their choice in the current environment,” said Ruhanya, a respected political analyst.

It is well known that Zanu (PF) will strive to use all means necessary to ensure that they hold on to power. Mugabe in particular, has in the past proved that he will hang on to power until he dies in office. So paranoid is Mugabe that he believes that no one will rule Zimbabwe except him with the assistance of his cabal which includes the military.

Admittedly the inclusive government has brought with it renewed hope that the next elections will be free and fair. At least now Tsvangirai and his MDC and other political players can travel to the remotest parts of the country to carry out campaigns.

A new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has been put in place and for once it has a few moderate people unlike the previous George Chiweshe led ZEC which was infested with state security agents.

Sporadic incidents of violence can still be heard from across the country raising fears that the problem of violence can still come up.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) believes that the environment is not yet good enough for a proper election. ZESN director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava believes anomalies still exist.

“Elections held under the current conditions will not be free and fair.  ZESN has observed that the prevailing conditions in the country such as the recent increases in politically motivated violence and the crack down on human rights defenders does not instil confidence about the possibility of a poll with integrity and free from violence and intimidation.

“ZESN is concerned about the calls for elections without putting in place the necessary electoral reforms that would ensure the integrity of the ballot.  In light of this, ZESN has come up with a gourmet of fundamental electoral reforms needed to protect the integrity of the ballot.
“Amongst these is the need for an election management body that is truly independent, with the human and material resources to conduct election. In addition, ZESN has also called for an audit of the voters roll which has resulted in the disenfranchisement of some voters in the past as well as a bio-metric voters’ roll which minimises the suspicions of electoral fraud.

“While Zimbabwe is party to international protocols such as the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and at regional level, the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, show very little progress has been done to implement the spirit of these instruments,” said Chipfunde-Vava.

However recent developments among negotiators in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) have given hope to Zimbabweans that a free and fair election could be possible. The three political parties in the GPA, Zanu PF, MDC and the smaller faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara have agreed to a raft of electoral reforms.

The proposed new amendments to the Electoral Act are designed to prevent the 2008 experience by introducing strict procedures on how the poll is to be conducted and results announced. They are also calculated to stem systematic rigging. Zimbabwe’s elections since 2000 have been hotly disputed due to political violence and rigging.

From now on there will be counting of presidential election ballots at a local level to prevent manipulation and vote-rigging.

There will also be the creation of presidential constituency centres to collate results at the House of Assembly constituency level.

Direct transmission of presidential election results from the polling station to the appropriate House of Assembly constituency centre and straight relaying of the results return from the House of Assembly constituency centre to the provincial command centre en route to the National Command Centre will also be introduced. As a result, the controversial National Command Centre — manned by state agents accused of manipulating past elections, especially the 2008 one — will no longer be able to fiddle with the results.

The changes also seek to prevent parties from using political violence as a tool of winning elections. There will be a special body in the electoral law to deal with political violence. The Attorney-General’s office will set up a special unit to prosecute perpetrators of violence.
Special courts will also be established at a magistrate’s court level to deal with cases of violence.

ZEC will now have powers to summon parties accused of violence and give them warnings. Those convicted of violence will be banned from elections.

But the big question is, will the political players honour this agreement?