AS Zimbabwe makes preparations for the March legislative poll, it has been singled out as one of the world’s last rogue states by US Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice.
Rice last week branded the country an “outpost of tyra
nny” along with Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea.
While President Robert Mugabe last year ratified the Grande Baie protocol on the holding of free and fair elections together with 13 other Southern African Development Community (Sadc) heads of state, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change maintains that there have been only half-hearted efforts to implement the new regional code.
Sadc members, meeting in Mauritius last August, unanimously resolved that elections in the region should reflect political tolerance, freedom of association, equal access to state media and independence of the judiciary and electoral institutions.
But the MDC insists that there are no meaningful steps to show political tolerance, open the media or repeal repressive legislation.
“The police continue to stop the MDC from holding political rallies, while party activists remain at risk of being abducted, beaten and tortured by ruling party militia and members of the security forces,” MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube, said.
Despite threatening a boycott, analysts say the MDC looks set to take part in the general election in March.
Writing in his weekly message recently, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai seemed ready to participate by saying there had been a fall in political violence. “Although pockets of rogue elements still exist here and there, by and large we have witnessed a decrease in cases of open violence against political opponents,” he said.
President Robert Mugabe, accused of using fraud and violence to win the 2000 parliamentary vote and the 2002 presidential election, has signed several new measures into law, including the appointment of an electoral commission.
The commissioners, led by High Court judge George Chiweshe, were appointed after preparations for the poll, such as the publication of the voters’ roll, had already begun. Former permanent secretary in the ministry of Information, Sarah Kachingwe, will deputise Chiweshe in the commission that will oversee the running of all future elections. Other commissioners are academic and long-time confidant of Mugabe, Professor George Kahari, retired Anglican bishop, Jonathan Siyachitema, and social activist Vivian Ncube.
Speaking soon after the appointment last Thursday, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said Mugabe appointed the chairman with the help of the Judicial Service Commission from a list compiled by parliament’s Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.
The committee includes legislators of all political parties represented in the House but is dominated by the ruling Zanu PF which is the majority party. Chinamasa said the commission would be independent. The opposition MDC said it welcomed the establishment of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission but said it had reservations about its chairman. MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the party was pleased with the appointment of the four commissioners who were nominated by consensus between the MDC and Zanu PF.
“However, the MDC has serious reservations in respect of the impartiality and independence of the person appointed as the chairperson for the reasons that he is not known for his impartiality in the manner in which he has handled cases relating to the MDC and its members,” Nyathi said.
“This was particularly true in respect of those members of the MDC who were falsely implicated in the abduction and murder of Cain Nkala. In the spirit that everyone learns from their mistakes we hope and trust that Justice Chiweshe, in the light of the outcome of the Cain Nkala case, as a trained lawyer, will let bygones be bygones and return to the ideals of the legal profession of fairness, impartiality and integrity.”
Before the appointment, Chiweshe, who is a former army officer, chaired the Delimitation Commission that drew up the country’s voting constituencies. The commission in charge of drawing up constituency boundaries reduced the number of MPs elected in the MDC strongholds of the capital, Harare, and the second city, Bulawayo, saying the number of registered voters has fallen, while giving additional MPs to Mugabe’s rural strongholds in the north-east.
Meanwhile, Chinamasa also announced the appointment of Theophilus Gambe as chairman of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC). The minister said the ESC, which under Zimbabwe’s constitution must oversee fairness and transparency during elections, will remain in existence to monitor the ZEC.
The MDC however charges that manipulation of the electoral roll was one of the ways in which previous elections were rigged. Young, urban voters, who tend to sympathise with the opposition, are also upset that they have to provide letters from their employers or landlords in order to vote, seeing this as a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise them. The MDC further says that the state broadcaster refuses to run its adverts in direct contravention of the Sadc protocols. Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said the MDC would be allowed to advertise on state media but did not see why they wanted to.
“They are advertising in their own media and denigrating the ZBC, so why should they want to use any other media?” Mutasa asked.
Ncube says that the police often refuse the MDC permission to hold political meetings as required under tough new security laws. And he says that even when permission is granted, the police now insist that only those named in advance are allowed to speak. So members of the public who attend the meetings cannot make their own views known.
Recent sharp criticism by the ANC, which in its most outspoken remarks to date showed deep frustration with the course of events in the country, have added to the pressure on Zanu PF for compliance with the Grande Baie protocol.
ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe last week said “the playing field should be levelled and the police should act in an impartial manner in enforcing the laws of the country. All of us are committed to ensure that the election goes without any violence, any intimidation,” Motlanthe said. He said it was an “anomaly” that the main opposition party with representation in parliament and control of several municipalities should have to seek police permission before holding meetings.
The ANC was “nudging Zanu PF to ensure that the outcome of the election should be without the possibility of being questioned by anybody”, he said.