LESS than two months before Zimbabwe goes to its sixth general election since Independence from Britain in 1980, opposition parties are agonising over whether to participate and legitimise the
poll currently tilted in the ruling Zanu PF party’s favour due to existing legislation.
Opposition parties are not alone in sniping at government’s feeble measures taken to comply with Sadc guidelines governing the holding of democratic elections. Civic groups also doubt government’s sincerity and have accused the ruling party of constantly manipulating regulations and legislation each time an election is in the offing.
“Government cannot claim to be fulfilling Sadc guidelines on free and fair elections as long as repressive pieces of legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) remain in our statutes,” says lawyer, Kucaca Phulu.
Phulu, of the Media Lawyers Association, says it is futile for government to try and dupe the world into believing that the forthcoming March election will be free and fair simply by projecting a semblance of compliance when “this trilogy of repressive legislation is in place”.
“Posa, Aippa and BSA must be abolished first before government can claim compliance because they were enacted to prevent ‘regime change’. What ‘regime change’ means to the ruling Zanu PF party and government is avoiding free and fair elections at all costs,” Phulu adds.
He says government had merely put up a smokescreen when it knew quite well that the Sadc guidelines are ineffectual principles that are subordinate to internal laws.
“Government can comply with international laws but those laws mean little when they are subverted by domestic laws which impinge on the rights of citizens. The government does not seem to show commitment to the development of democracy as illustrated by its introduction of malevolent pieces of legislation,” Phulu explains.
Government has hurtled down the slalom to impress its regional neighbours that it is complying with the provisions of the Sadc Grande Baie protocol in response to intense international and regional pressure. It has hastened to pass the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act and the Electoral Act. Sadc guidelines require member countries to adopt effect measures favourable to holding free and fair elections.
General elections are scheduled for March 31 this year. But opposition parties say the measures put in place so far are cosmetic. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has yet to make a decision on its participation in the election although indications are that it will.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai says the forthcoming election could provide the medium through which the people realise their cherished goals.
“We are keen to take part in this process, provided the conditions on the ground are right,” he said. “We pledge to respect the will of the people. Whether we opt to stay at home or not, the consequences shall push the political temperature beyond boiling point and hasten the demise of tyranny in our country.”
In his weekly message to the electorate this week, Tsvangirai says judging by the mood on the ground, the MDC is ready to put an end to uncertainty, political anxiety and fear.
“We are ready to embark on a decisive road towards the democratisation of our nation and our institutions, and to introduce a far-reaching political culture, with freedom as the foundation for prosperity,” he says.
That is despite stifling legislation in place.
“The repressive Posa has stifled political activity by opposition parties while Aippa and the Broadcasting Services Act have ensured that voters, especially the rural electorate, are kept ignorant of alternative policies from contesting parties,” president of Zapu Freedom Party, Paul Siwela says.
Government has often used Posa to deny opposition parties the right to hold campaign meetings. Opposition members complain that the police are partisan and biased in favour of the ruling Zanu PF, often misinterpreting provisions of the Act to put all sorts of obstacles in their way.
It has denied other political players access to radio and television while at the same time barring non-governmental organisations from conducting voter education in contravention of some of the core requirements for compliance.
Siwela says the ruling Zanu PF has abused Aippa and BSA to shut out alternative opinion other than its own, disregarding the fact that all Zimbabweans are primary stakeholders in national rebuilding. “That is a serious indictment of government but Zapu Freedom Party will go to the polls despite regulations meant to stifle national debate about the future of this nation,” Siwela says.
He says Zanu PF would welcome a boycott of the elections by the opposition in order to firmly establish its cherished one-party state dream but his party will not allow that to happen.