A harbinger of things to come

THE winning Zanu PF candidate in

Zengeza, Christopher Chigumba, said the by-election result had set the tone for the 2005 parliamentary poll. Indeed it has. The by-election was characterised by coercion, violence and vote-buying, according to independent observers.  

One MDC activist was killed and two others injured in a shooting incident. Several clashes were reported between rival groups of party supporters. People standing in voting queues were stoned and chased away, according to one report.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network said suspected Zanu PF members could be seen camped outside polling stations where they were taking down the names of people who had just voted. At Seke 1 High School, ZESN observed two women being beaten by a group of women as they tried to leave the polling station. The group claimed the two women had voted for the opposition.

ZESN reported ruling party militants moving around the district in large numbers, hindering campaigning. Most opposition meetings and rallies were cancelled, their posters torn down and replaced by ruling party ones. There were also a large number of youths requesting assistance from polling officers to cast their vote because they were either illiterate, sick or had “blurred vision or unsteady hands”, the network said.

Zanu PF will have learnt a useful lesson in all this: that crime pays. Not only is the electoral process designed to assist the incumbent party but vote-buying and coercion have now become the norm.

The ruling party claims the Zengeza poll reflects a return of support from the urban electorate who have either been persuaded that the economy is on the mend or are disillusioned with the MDC’s performance.

This requires a considerable leap of faith. By supplying the month-on-month inflation figures instead of the usual year-on-year figure, the government press has suggested inflation is coming down when it manifestly isn’t.

An inflation rate of 602,5%, which Finance minister Chris Kureneri last week told this paper was the highest in the world, is shocking evidence of a mismanaged economy by any definition. There will be no improvement in employment figures so long as investors are scared off by the absence of the rule of law, and the destruction of commercial agriculture means there will be significantly lower returns on tobacco and other income-generating exports. The country has long since ceased to feed itself.

If the MDC’s municipal administration has failed, that is hardly surprising given the obstruction and downright sabotage the Harare city council has experienced on the political front.

But any debate along these lines is to fall into the trap of conceding that the Zengeza poll reflects any such things. What it shows clearly is that the urban electorate, like their rural counterparts, will not be afforded an opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote for a candidate of their choice.

Visits by ruling-party supporters to their homes with “invitations” to attend meetings, the recording of their names outside polling stations, the presence of Green Bombers and the clamour of the mob around polling stations all provide a climate of intimidation.

Then there are the promises and inducements, once known as “treating”, that are patently illegal but now regarded as the norm. Add to this a flawed voters roll, “assisted” voting, and a public media that excludes alternative views and you have an election that is seriously at odds with the democratic standards Zimbabwe has promised to observe in its 2001 signature to the Sadc parliamentary forum’s rules.

Nobody should deceive themselves into thinking Zengeza represents a turning of the tide. Conditions in the country and its capital are now a great deal worse than they were in 2000 when Zanu PF, by its own admission if yesterday’s Herald is anything to go by, lost the popular vote by 48,8% to the combined opposition’s 51%. Because of a sluggish appeals process its MPs continue to occupy seats that were taken in polls declared null and void by the High Court because of violence and intimidation.

The difference between 2000 and 2004 is that the means of coercion have been refined. Far from guaranteeing the ruling party the popular high ground it is claiming, the electoral results emanating from this flawed system will simply raise further questions of legitimacy and perpetuate the profound and potentially fatal divisions now evident in Zimbabwean society between those who favour a democratic dispensation and those who think they can survive by repression and fraud.

This will in turn impact on economic recovery because the international community will understandably refuse to deal with a regime that denies its people a democratic choice.

Zengeza is therefore indeed the harbinger of things to come claimed in the government media. But what that means is more of the same.

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