Primaries an insight into poll
AT the time of going to press yesterday Zanu PF was still bogged down in primary elections which began last weekend. The polls seek to select candidates to represent the party in the March parliamentary election.
There would be nothing to worry about in all this were it not for the fact that the current delays could be a foretaste of what to expect in March.
Zanu PF officials have given many reasons for failing to hold their primary elections in a single day — worrying and interesting at the same time. Because of the new cards launched late last year polling officers were not sure who was entitled to vote. The new cards were issued only to district executives and not ordinary members until the eve of voting, especially in Murehwa. It was also claimed the party did not have sufficient manpower to carry out the exercise in one day as originally planned. As of yesterday, there were 17 constituencies still to hold primaries.
The chairman of the Zanu PF national elections directorate, Elliot Manyika, claimed there were also transport and other logistical problems in accessing remote parts of Gokwe Central where results were still not known by yesterday morning.
Incredibly, Manyika said they might need helicopters to ferry voters to polling centres because some roads were impassable due to flooding.
Equally puzzling were the delays in the opening of polling centres in urban areas. State media on Sunday and Monday reported that some centres opened as late as 2pm in Harare because there were no polling officers!
Then of course there are unbridgeable fissures within the party which have caused the suspension of voting in Bulawayo and claims of irregularities and “rigging” in Mutare Central, Murehwa North and Makoni West. The party ordered a rerun yesterday in Insiza and Gwanda where sitting MPs Andrew Langa and Abedinico Ncube had been barred as part of the fallout from the Tsholotsho imbroglio.
There is much to be learnt from this catalogue of problems. Zanu PF has failed to hold its own elections in a single day. What capacity does it have to conduct a national election in one day? Voter turnout was very low in most constituencies in an exercise that was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the big show in March.
How long will it take polling agents to deal with Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe, for instance, where over 45 000 people reportedly turned out to vote in the 2002 presidential election?
Even if we put the issue of numbers aside, there is still the bigger moral dilemma that has dogged all Zanu PF elections — corruption, variously described as “irregularities” or “rigging” by the opposition.
While this has often been dismissed in the past because op-position parties are “bad losers” influenced by their imperialist sponsors, the same allegations are now coming from senior members in Zanu PF itself. And we dare say they must know something about their party’s strategies for winning elections.
Victor Chitongo, who lost Murehwa North, alleged there were hundreds of people who voted when they shouldn’t have.
In Makoni West Gibson Munyoro accused his rival Joseph Made of intimidation and bringing in voters from outside the constituency and of abusing GMB facilities.
“This is the worst case of vote-buying by a government minister,” declared a disgusted Munyoro in his appeal to President Mugabe. There were also bitter complaints of vote-rigging by Rugare Gumbo in Mberengwa East and Kenneth Manyonda in Buhera, which reflects a widespread pattern of electoral fraud. But the response from both the elections directorate and the presidium was less than encouraging for those wishing to contest in March.
Manyika said on Wednesday “a careful and thorough consideration of all the complaints” showed they did not warrant a rerun.
Why should the electorate expect their wishes to get a sympathetic hearing where the contest is against an opposition party?
There are a few salutary lessons to emerge from the Zanu PF primary elections. The party does not have the capacity to hold a national election in a single day. The culture of violence and fraudulent electoral conduct is too deeply entrenched to be rooted out by a mere reference to Sadc guidelines on free and fair elections.
Those wishing to challenge Zanu PF should be prepared to deal with its dirty tactics like vote-buying — called “donations” — and use of food to lure voters. Tony Blair and the women’s quota are a “winning formula” to mask a leopard that has failed to change its spots. Far from the acrimony around the primaries proving that there is democracy in Zanu PF, it reveals that the party is unforgiving of those who cross its path, whether from within or from the opposition.