REGISTRAR-General Tobaiwa Mudede this
week announced that the voters’ roll for the Seke by-election was ready for inspection.
The by-election will be held to replace Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislator Ben Tumbare-Mutasa who died last month after a short illness. Tumbare-Mutasa became MP in 2000 after trouncing Zanu PF’s Phineas Chihota.
Zanu PF will be under pressure to demonstrate that it can participate in an election that conforms to minimum standards for free and fair elections as adopted by Sadc this week in Mauritius. This by-election is a make or break vote for Zanu PF, because if they fail to deliver in terms of conduct, there is a risk that the electorate will treat the legislative polls next year with scepticism.
The ruling party will have to use the by-election to demonstrate that it can conform to minimum electoral standards such as equal access by all political parties to the public media, an overhaul of the voters’ roll and equal access for local and foreign monitors and observers.
The ruling party will also have to dissuade itself from the violence and lawlessness that have marred previous by-elections. Violence has been used as a weapon by the ruling party to cow the opposition. Ruling party militia, war veterans, the police and army units have, in previous by-elections such as Lupane and Zengeza, been deployed to intimidate opposition MDC members and leaders. The ruling party will have to ensure that people responsible for this violence will be subjected to due process of the law. The opposition has called on security forces, the police and army, to demonstrate their professionalism by refusing to be used for partisan ends.
President Robert Mugabe has said the ruling party’s position is that the 2005 parliamentary election should be held in an atmosphere of peace.
“You cannot force people to vote for you if they do not want to and violence can only result in tarnishing the exercise rather than benefiting anyone so we appeal to both sides to recognise that the people who have the right to vote must be allowed to vote in peace and calm,” Mugabe said.
The remarks followed his address at the opening of parliament last month in which he mooted “far reaching reforms to our electoral law”.
“These proposed changes, which also take into account ongoing regional consultations on developing electoral norms and standards for the Sadc, envisage the creation of an independent electoral commission as the principal player in running all our elections,” Mugabe said. He also proposed voting in one day, counting of ballots at the polling stations and the use of translucent ballot boxes.
MDC spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi said Zanu PF thugs had already started harassing the rural electorate in Seke.
“Zanu PF thugs are telling rural folk in Seke that since voting is now going to be done in one day, it would be easy to deal with all the culprits who would have voted for the MDC,” Nyathi said. He stated that ruling party supporters were also lying to the electorate that transparent ballot boxes, instead of translucent, would be used during polling. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai recently said Zanu PF’s proposals were insufficient.
“People are still demanding more measures towards a democratic order,” Tsvangirai said. “The recent appointment of a soldier as chief electoral officer does not inspire anybody. It is a step backwards.” He said electoral reform was a central part of political and democratic transformation. Electoral reform, in the case of Zimbabwe, was a serious constitutional matter.
“To be effective, electoral reforms needed a solid backing of independent institutions dealing with electoral disputes, handling political excesses and taking care of the whole electoral process,” he said. The MDC leader said the absence of credible, legally empowered institutions for recourse and reliable monitoring bodies with statutory powers of censure, direction and correction created a shaky process open to contest regardless of the winners.
Tsvangirai said people were worried about the lack of confidence-building measures, especially on the secrecy of the ballot. He said there were no mechanisms and institutional frameworks to guarantee a free and fair election. He cited the Lupane and Zengeza by-election held earlier in the year.
There are allegations that hundreds of youth militia from Matabeleland provinces were bused into Lupane constituency to register as voters. The seat became vacant following the death of MDC legislator David Mpala. It is alleged youths from areas such as Jambesi, Kamativi and Wankie were bused into the constituency where arrangements were made by ruling party officials for them to get recommendation letters from the local chiefs and headmen for them to register as voters.
At Lupane business centre alone where the youths were booked at a guesthouse until April 27, more than 300 youths were registered between March 22 to 24. Some of the youths confirmed that they were indeed registering in preparation for the by-election. They disclosed that they had been instructed not to talk about it to the public.
In an attempt to disguise their strategy, each group was moved out to either Dadaya camp in Zvishavane, Mushagashe in Masvingo or Border Gezi in Mashonaland Central as soon as registration was completed. They underwent youth training in those respective centres before being re-deployed back into Lupane to vote in the by-election.
“It is not surprising that Zanu PF will employ such diabolic tactics,” Nyathi said.
In Zengeza there were numerous reports of violence and harassment in the weeks prior to the poll. Hospital officials said that they treated at least 50 people for injuries immediately prior to and during the two days of voting. Other reports told of 200 people being attacked and chased away from a voting queue by a “riotous” group of ruling party youths. In one violent incident on the first day of voting the opposition reported that four truckloads of ruling party youths stormed the house of the MDC candidate. Twenty-two-year-old opposition supporter Francis Chinozvinya was shot in the chest and pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. In the same incident another man, Arthur Gunzvenzve, was shot and injured.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, in a report of the Zengeza by-election, said the atmosphere was extremely tense and intimidatory and said there was “not a chance this can be called a free and fair election”.
“Only 32% of registered voters exercised their right to cast a ballot in the Zengeza by-election which the opposition called ‘daylight robbery’. It was an election that has made all Zimbabweans start thinking seriously about parliamentary elections due in March next year,” Zesn executive chairman Reginald Matchaba-Hove said.
There is already much debate about whether or not the opposition should boycott next year’s elections — considering the violence which arose in the Lupane and Zengeza by-elections.
Political pressure group Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said this week the absence of popular outrage at electoral irregularities was worrying.
“The most depressing thing about Zimbabwean elections now is the tired resignation with which people accept the results and the almost non-existent outrage,” Crisis Coalition said.
“Police, government and the state-owned media say the election was peaceful or that there were minor skirmishes, they don’t talk about cold-blooded murder, terror and perpetrators walking free.”