Is a free and fair election possible in Zim?

Itai Dzamara


THE recent general election in South

Africa provided Southern Africa with a commendable example of a thriving democracy. Coming ahead of next year’s election in Zimbabwe, the South African scenario set a firm template against which the electoral system in this country can be measured.


Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) standards on the conduct of elections recommend a free and fair environment before, during and after the conduct of an election. All contesting parties must enjoy this.


The ruling Zanu PF is intensifying its campaign for the forthcoming general election, which is set for March 2005. Analysts said Zanu PF was buoyed by its victory in the Zengeza by-election last month and wants to maintain the momentum all the way to the time of holding the general election. The ruling party is therefore expected to put its foot firmly on the pedal and strengthen aspects of the current electoral system that work to its advantage.


An MDC activist was killed during the Zengeza by-election. The opposition party also complained about the use of the youth militia by Zanu PF to intimidate the electorate.


It is understood that a recent Zanu PF central committee meeting discussed the importance of the forthcoming election and members felt the ruling party was currently on a strong footing for a resounding victory.


 “The MDC is ripe for burial,” Mugabe said after meeting his party leadership.


The ruling party has already started campaigning in both rural and urban constituencies and has made clear the strategies it will be using, including door to door visits. Zanu PF officials who were campaigning in Glen Norah recently portrayed uncollected rubbish as a new phenomenon wrought by the MDC council.


More of this face to face contact with the electorate could intensify in the urban areas where Zanu PF is hoping to wrestle seats from the opposition.


The MDC and other opposition parties on the other hand have yet to make efforts at matching Zanu PF on the campaign trail. The MDC and other political parties believe that the ruling party uses unfair means to create an advantage for itself.


Zanu PF sent a delegation to South Africa to observe and “learn” during the recent election overwhelmingly won by the African National Congress (ANC).


Zanu PF national commissar, Elliot Manyika, led the party delegation to South Africa to observe the election.


“We learnt quite a lot on the general conduct of elections as well as from our colleagues in the ANC on how to effectively campaign for victory,” said Manyika this week.


However, political analysts said the ruling party was likely to adopt strategies that could only further its advantage at the expense of opposition parties.


ANC leader President Thabo Mbeki used the door to door campaign during preparations for the polls and the opposition parties in South Africa also had the liberty to use the strategy. The environment permitted leaders from the ruling party and the opposition to freely interact with the electorate and sell their policies.


If adopted in Zimbabwe by any party, the door to door campaign increases access to the electorate by those bidding for office. It also, inversely, presents a stronger platform for politicians who want to use other means such as intimidation, coercion and vote buying.


Given that scenario, analysts observed, Zanu PF, which also has in place the draconian Public Order and Security Act (Posa) on its side, is likely to use its “lessons” from South Africa to its advantage.


Manyika said the ruling party would use the door to door campaign to reach out to the electorate.


The ruling party has the youth militia ready to cover all parts of the country. Coupled with the bias by the law enforcement agents in favour of Zanu PF, the ruling party is tipped to enjoy a great advantage.


The MDC youth league, for example, cannot at the moment match the militia in might and effectiveness as the militia has the full backing of other state apparatus. The MDC on the other hand will have problems organising in an environment where the government is quick to unleash the police and army against any perceived dissent.


MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube denies the charge that his party is not seriously campaigning for next year’s election. He said the ruling party has over the years been crafting a political framework in Zimbabwe to prejudice the opposition.


“The environment in this country doesn’t offer a fair platform for the opposition to campaign. It obviously favours the ruling party and that has been achieved through a number of ways such as draconian laws and the unfair electoral system in general,” said Ncube.


Ncube however said his party has started campaigning and would give its best shot at next year’s poll.


“We are preparing for the elections. Preparation means working with the people on the ground and we are doing that through our MPs and other structures.


“It is not our problem that the media is not reporting on our activities across the country,” said Ncube.


Professor Elphas Mukonoweshuro, a political analyst based at the University of Zimbabwe and an MDC activist, said Zimbabweans were disillusioned with the electoral framework currently being used and want to emulate the South African scenario.


“What is clear is that Zimbabweans are sick and tired of bogus elections that have been held under this system,” said Mukonoweshuro.


“Zimbabweans have made it clear that they want a better framework, probably not exactly the same as the South African system since there are peculiar situations here. However, the people here want an independent electoral commission, they don’t want the army to be involved in any way in the conduct of elections and have also demanded the disbandment of the militia.”


He said the question on whether the electoral system in this country could improve depended on political will.


 “You should ask Zanu PF the question. It may choose to worsen the situation here or improve it based on the South African scenario,” he said.


Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairman, Reginald Matchaba-Hove, who observed the recent South African poll, this week said changes depended on political will and commitment by government.


“We got a number of lessons, in particular regarding the conduct of an election in a peaceful and fair manner,” said Matchaba-Hove. “The organisation of the elections was impressive. It was encouraging to see such a big country holding the voting process in just one day with minimum problems.


“The counting was done in a transparent manner and to the satisfaction of all the parties. The question we brought home is, if they managed to do it in South Africa why can’t we do it here?”


He added: “On that note, a number of changes to our electoral system have to be effected. The same applies to the general political and legal environment. For example, Posa must not be used to deprive other political parties or aspiring individuals access to the electorate.”

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