By Sij Ncube
HARARE, June 4, 2015 – AS political tension and violence rise in Hurungwe West ahead of next Wednesday’s by-election, pitting former Zanu(PF) legislator for the area Temba Mliswa and his nemesis Keith Guzah, analysts say the volatile situation on the ground necessitates the postponement of the poll.
However, the analysts doubt the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which was cherry-picked by the Zanu (PF) leader President Robert Mugabe, has the political wherewithal to stop the elections despite reports of violence, intimidation and vote-buying.
The analysts are agreed the ground in Hurungwe West is unlevelled, hence not conducive for the staging of free and fair elections citing electoral irregularities, particularly the latest arrest of Mliswa.
It would be unconstitutional and procedural for the poll to proceed, they argued, as it emerged Mliswa, who is seeking to reclaim his seat as an independent after being expelled from Zanu PF over a plethora of allegations, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly tearing down campaign posters of his rival as well as disrupting a meeting.
According to an alert from the Zimbabwe Peace Project, this is not the first time that the fire-brand politician has been arrested in the constituency ahead of the June 10 by-election Zanu PF wants to win at all costs.
He was arrested on January 31 this year on theft and possession of fire arms charges but was subsequently acquitted on 14 May, 2015 of both charges.
On 12 April he was arrested again at Sengwe Business Centre and charged with disrupting a Zanu (PF) meeting. His car was allegedly stoned by one Zanu PF agent provocateur, Nigel Murambiwa, who apparently led the invasion of Mliswa’s farm.
Another recent Political Environment Report on the situation on the ground in Hurungwe produced by Heal Zimbabwe indicates the Zanu (PF) candidate has barred villagers coming to attend his campaign meetings with smart phones while violence continues unabated even in the presence of police.
A number of traditional leaders have reportedly been assaulted for allegedly supporting Mliswa while others have been dethroned and forced out of the area as political violence spirals out of control.
Okay Machisa, the director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, said the Hurungwe by-election should have been stopped long before, citing political violence and abuse of the electorate which is reportedly being force-marched to attend Zanu PF rallies or meetings.
Machisa charged that a lot of unconstitutional events have taken place including gross human rights abuses.
“ZEC should have called off this by-election soon after realising some of the unconstitutional and blatant violations of our electoral laws. ZEC continues to put a blind eye on issues that perpetually discredits its independence and I feel it is not late to postpone the Hurungwe by-election given what is unfolding on the ground,” he said.
Jack Zaba, a programmes manager at the Election Resource Centre, noted that ZEC has in place a conflict management mechanism in the form of multi-party liaison committees which are primarily tasked with addressing issues like inter-party violence, there is also a provision in the country’s electoral laws for the electoral management body to suspend a given election.
”But in the case of Hurungwe West, ZEC might argue that they are yet to exhaust other forms of addressing the reported scourge of violence, for instance multi-party liaison committees are meeting regularly, with Mliswa said to have attended one of them.
Additionally ZEC is on record saying they have alerted the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, as required at law to investigate reports of violence in Hurungwe West.
“So the scope for suspension of poll in Hurungwe unfortunately remains limited because ZEC appears convinced that the magnitude of violence is less such that its impact will not substantially affect voters from participating in the election,” said Zaba.
Rashweat Mukundu, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, however, said what is happening in Hurnungwe West gives a helicopter view of a wide national problem every time there are elections. He however doubted whether ZEC has the political wherewithal to deal with the violence as well as manage the polls democratically.
“The challenges in Hurungwe are much bigger than the constituency, and these relate to how elections are run in general,” said Mukundu.
“The ruling elite have not embraced democracy and whether you postpone the election or not nothing changes as long as ZEC has no power to deal with electoral violence and manage elections democratically.”