Dim prospects for free, fair poll

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HARARE – In two weeks’ time, Zimbabweans will be voting in a harmonised election.

The campaigns are in full swing with the usual hate-speech from the usual culprits.

Grace Mugabe typified the hateful campaigning with rather distasteful “jokes” about MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

But for a subservient people deprived of almost everything, even the resilience to resist laughter at obviously humourless “jokes” seems lost too.

On the other hand, the State-controlled media tried to overplay a scene of women vendors running away from the MDC leader in order to portray Tsvangirai as politically repulsive.

To the contrary, the portraiture only buttressed Simba Makoni’s popular line that Zimbabwe is a nation that has lived in fear.

It is an image that the opposition can adopt as the most abiding illustration of how Zimbabweans have lived in fear for 33 years.

Without the cover and anonymity that a crowd brings, it should be unsurprising to anyone familiar with local politics that these defenceless and poor women would take to their heels in traditional Zanu PF strongholds.

It is probably wise to dissociate themselves from Tsvangirai rather than risk inevitable retribution and loss of wares during these difficult economic times.

But the truth is these vendors know Zanu PF rule has not provided them with better lives.

Zanu PF has over the years sought to create a society that lives in fear of its party members, for example Chipangano, war veterans, so-called Green Bombers, the army, the police and the CIO.

Change will, however, come when Zimbabweans are able to conquer fear and make sacrifices.

Unfortunately, prospects for change remain gloomy. The integrity of the forthcoming election is already gravely compromised in many ways, with the MDC calling it “illegal” after President Mugabe circumvented Parliament on amendments to the Electoral Act.

But also, it is already clear that the reforms that were meant to be instituted would no longer materialise. 

Other than the Constitution, establishment of still-dormant commissions and the licensing of a few radio stations aligned to Zanu PF, there is very little to show for four years of coalition governance.

Yet facilitating a free and fair election was, among the stabilisation of political environment and the economy, a major aim of transition.

The election is under-funded after rejection of UN funding.

Zanu PF blocked the funds on the grounds of interference after the UN requested a fact-finding visit. 

But who would invest money into any project (in our case, a democratic one) without convincing themselves it would be used appropriately?

We have not been too successful in sourcing our own finance, and it may be late to use the funds if ever they become available. The correlation between a properly-funded election and a democratic election cannot be underplayed.

Democratic elections ought to facilitate the voting rights of the greatest number of people. However, the election already lacks integrity because when the voter registration exercise ended, many had not registered.

If the shambles of the special vote at the weekend are anything to go by, it is shuddering to imagine how the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) will handle the July 31 election.

Many failed to vote, and MDC wants the special voting nullified.

Considering special voting involved security forces and civil servants to assist Zec during the elections, the chaos at the weekend casts doubt on the electoral management (EMB)’s preparedness to conduct an election involving the larger electorate.

It is quite astounding that an EMB would fail to provide the basic but most crucial element of the voting process — ballot papers.

Rita Makarau has her reputation at stake. Zec must conduct a credible poll in a fortnight.

It all seems that, after four years of “transition” and preparing for a free and fair election, the forthcoming poll is already beset with the usual problems of the past.

Taken together — lack of reforms, disenfranchisement, poor financing and of course possible violence and electoral manipulation — it is difficult to be optimistic about the prospects of a free and fair election on July 31.

It goes without saying, the lesser the prospects of a free and fair election, the dimmer the chances of the opposition winning the election.

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