Comment

Global spotlight shifts to Zimbabwe


THERE is no mistaking the panic on the part of government as the March election date inches closer by the day.
 
Nowhere is this more evident than in the state media which apparently has been order

ed to blow the trumpet each time some change to the electoral rules is made.

“Compliance” is the name of the game. The whole world must be made aware of how far government is complying with the Sadc principles and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections.


The past four years have not been an electoral Elysium despite the feigned nonchalance about world opinion. It has been four years of shame.
 
The stigma of illegitimacy will take a long time to exorcise despite the bluster about Zimbabwe’s post-Independence record of conducting polls. We are hearing the chorus of compliance with the Grande Baie protocol to wring endorsement from critical neighbours who have just had their own elections.


It is what still has to be accomplished to win legitimacy that is proving hard to achieve. The five general elections in quick succession last year demonstrate that the region is no longer willing to be associated with the violence and manipulation that has become the norm in Zimbabwe.


The elections in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi were conducted relatively peacefully under the auspices of independent supervisory institutions. It was as if all the countries were trying to show Zimbabwe the road map to international acceptability and economic growth.


That means the international spotlight will now be firmly on Zimbabwe to see if we have learnt anything from our neighbours who have endured so much over the years in the name of African solidarity. The judgement of our election will be more brutal because of past experience of coercion and other forms of electoral irregularities.


The militarisation of the electoral process has not been lost on the international community. The use by the ruling Zanu PF party of the youth militia to harass and terrorise the opposition is an obvious abuse of power. The use of food as a campaign tool amid grain shortages is another.
 
All this is not helped by government’s refusal to grant the opposition space in publicly funded media to campaign — an egregious breach of the Mauritius process. At the same time the police are using the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) to deny the MDC their right to campaign or even meet.


Add to this cocktail a murky voters’ roll and you have a problem even before the dates of the election are announced.


The state media have been making much of the passage of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act and the Electoral Act as signalling a levelling of the playing field and compliance with the Sadc principles. But both Acts ensure key electoral players are beholden to President Mugabe. Moreover, Mugabe already enjoys the advantage of incumbency despite questionable legitimacy.
 
Both Acts were passed by parliament despite adverse reports of the Parliamentary Legal Committee. In other words, the Acts themselves are of dubious constitutionality.


The same applies to the NGOs Bill which will infringe on constitutional rights by denying to civil society its right to engage in electoral education and enhance democracy.


But the real test of whether Zimbabwe can make the transition from an illegitimate government to an internationally acceptable one is the role of the militia and the military in the election — the level of violence before and during the election period.
 
So long as the Zanu PF youth militia prowl the townships and communal areas together with war veterans intimidating and harassing potential voters, we have a huge problem. The two have already declared parts of Mashonaland West, East and Central no-go areas for the opposition. This is a serious handicap for an opposition that has been denied access to the state media and doesn’t have any media voice of its own.

The opposition should weigh its options very carefully not to give legality to daylight fraud by taking part under protest. Zimbabwe doesn’t belong to Zanu PF and every party should enjoy equality before the law. People must be able to choose their leaders without fear or favour. This is the message the MDC should make clear to Sadc leaders pushing for its participation in the March election.


The opposition should meanwhile fight for unfettered access to the public media. It’s not an issue for bargaining. ZBH is not financed by Zanu PF, but by Zimbabweans.

The opposition should also fight for the repeal of vile statutes like Posa whose sole purpose is to stymie their political activities and give the police undue influence in determining electoral outcomes.


Of late dubious political analysts have been roped in to claim that Zimbabwe has some of the best electoral laws in Africa and beyond. Has the system been put to test in an election?

That is for Zimbabwean and international observers to say, not for the government to beat its own chest about.
 
Government is trying to blackmail the region to endorse its insincere reforms so that whoever challenges them is labelled a tool of the British.