FOR the Zimbabwe electorate, to win o
r not to win is not the real question. They should be asking themselves whether they are prepared for a free and fair election.
Serious electoral irregularities in Zimbabwean elections over the past four years were manifest again in the Zengeza by-election over the weekend. The proceedings were clear testimony that Zimbabwe is still far from ready to hold a free and fair election.
The election, which was contested by four candidates — Christopher Chigumba (Zanu PF), James Makore (MDC), Tendai Chakanyuka (Nagg) and Gideon Chinogureyi (Zanu Ndonga) — was marred by violence both in the run-up and during the voting days.
The ruling Zanu PF won the election, polling 8 447 votes against the opposition MDC’s 6 706. Zanu won 96 votes and Naag 37.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in a message on Tuesday, condemned the electoral process as flawed and undemocratic.
“An analysis of the Zengeza by-election shows that political competition here remains a bloody affair 24 years after Independence,” Tsvangirai said.
“Zanu PF is prepared to kill to satisfy its hunger for power and oppression.”
Francis Chinozvinya, an MDC activist, was shot dead on Sunday in a Zanu PF raid on the home of the MDC candidate, James Makore, in Zengeza. Another MDC youth, Arthur Gunzvenzve, was shot in the leg and taken to hospital. Scores of other MDC supporters were seriously injured since the start of the campaign in Zengeza, Tsvangirai said. “We condemn the continuous descent into thuggery, lawlessness and mayhem in the general body politic in Zimbabwe,” Tsvangirai said.
“Elections, which should reflect the exercise of our sovereignty in the selection of our leaders, should never become open seasons for murder, torture, beatings and violence.”
He said the MDC entered the 2002 presidential election fully aware that the rules of the game were against democracy.
“Since 2000, we participated in all the by-elections because of our firm belief in taking over power through democratic means,” said the MDC leader.
“The image of opposition parties in Africa has been severely dented by the apparent readiness to use arms to deal with post-colonial dictatorships. The results have often been chaotic and unpredictable. That route has never been an option for the MDC,” he said.
Tsvangirai said the Zengeza election gave the people of Zimbabwe a foretaste of the chaos that awaits the nation in 2005.
“Conducting any election in this manner affects the secrecy of the ballot and must be condemned,” he said.
Tsvangirai also questioned whether Zimbabwe was ready for next year’s parliamentary election.
“Come to 2005, what safeguards do we as Zimbabweans have to curb the kind of wayward behaviour we saw from Zanu PF in the past five years? Are we ready as a nation to go through the same agony we endured in 2000 and in 2002?” he asked.
“What kind of life did the Zimbabwean voter go through in the various by-elections conducted in this country since 2000? Are these ordeals necessary if the outcome is going to be pre-determined anyway?” he questioned.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), which deployed its observers in the constituency as early as January 25, could not declare the election fair and fair. Zesn said Zanu PF intensified its terror campaign as the polling dates approached.
“Zanu PF set up youth camps in Zengeza and their youths were allegedly harassing the residents,” Zesn said.
“Zanu PF youths were accused of banging on people’s gates trying to force them to attend their rallies. The Zanu PF candidate was allegedly involved in a vote-buying campaign. It is alleged that the candidate’s agents launched a door-to-door campaign and offered $10 000 to each of the people they visited in return for votes.”
Zesn said people who refused to accept the money were then invited to the Zanu PF offices. They were required to bring with them their national identity cards which were subsequently confiscated while those who accepted the money had their identity numbers noted down and there is now a fear that they could have been “converted into assisted voters” thereby giving the ruling party an unfair advantage.
As the election days got closer, Zanu PF was accused of unleashing an orgy of terror against suspected opposition supporters.
During this terror campaign, a group of over 100 ruling party supporters pelted with stones and damaged houses belonging to members of the opposition. One of the damaged houses belonged to Makore.
Police proceeded to beat up people willy-nilly after the incident but noone was arrested.
Other than the clear vote-buying and sponsorship of terror campaigns, Chigumba is alleged to have opened a clinic to offer free medication to the Zengeza electorate. Whether the clinic will continue its services after the election remains to be seen as analysts see it as a political gimmick. Chigumba’s tactics to lure the electorate was known by the Electoral Supervisory Commission but it never took action although this was in clear violation of electoral laws.
The ruling party set up seven militia bases throughout the constituency from which it launched its terror campaign against people suspected to be sympathetic to the opposition.
Despite the setting up of an inter-party liaison committee, Zanu PF continued to violate its undertakings by disrupting the MDC’s campaign activities. This forced the party to abandon all public meetings for fear that Zanu PF would disrupt them. Some of such disruptions occurred in the presence of the police.
Violence spilled into voting days. One MDC activist was shot dead on Sunday morning (the second day of voting) when ruling party supporters clashed with MDC supporters. No one has been arrested. On Tuesday a police spokesman said the force was pursuing “very active investigations in the case”.
Electoral Supervisory Commission spokesman Thomas Bvuma this week confirmed that clashes had erupted in Zengeza involving Zanu PF and MDC during election days. He also confirmed that there was a shooting incident in which one life was lost while two other people were injured.
“It is not clear whether that person died as a result of gunshot wounds or death related to the clashes but he reportedly died at Avenues Clinic,” Bvuma said
Observers also raised concern over the number of assisted voters. An estimated 10% of the 15 388 people who cast their votes in the Zengeza by-election are understood to have been assisted voters.
The US State Department has declared the Zengeza by-election not free and fair because of the irregularities that occurred prior to and during elections.
“We condemn the violence, intimidation, and irregularities that occurred prior to and during the March 27/28 Zengeza parliamentary by-election,” the US said in a statement.
“According to credible reports, two youth supporters from the opposition MDC were shot, one fatally, on March 28. We call upon the Zimbabwean government to investigate the crime and prosecute those responsible,” it said.
“The election’s improprieties preclude it from being deemed free and fair. The by-election should have been a routine and peaceful expression of a local constituency’s political will. Instead, it became another symbol of the ruling party’s pursuit of electoral victories at the expense of the peaceful expression of democratic rights in Zimbabwe,” the statement said.
The US said police failure to quell disruptions in Zengeza and the general deterioration of the electoral process cast a dark cloud over prospects of a free and fair process in the Lupane by-election in May and nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for March next year.
“The violence and irregularities of the Zengeza election are also troubling because of what they portend for another by-election in May and for the nationwide parliamentary elections in March 2005,” the US said.
“For future elections to be free and fair, government must act now to regularise the political environment. Specifically, it must ensure freedom of the press and association, suppress and prosecute political violence, allow unfettered political campaigning and establish an independent electoral supervisory commission.”
The MDC is demanding there should be amendments to the electoral laws to conform to Sadc norms and standards. The MDC wants to see the establishment of an independent electoral commission that would be responsible for the running of the entire electoral process. It is also demanding the exclusion of partisan officials such as the current Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede and members of the military from being involved in the running of the elections.
The opposition wants a completely fresh voters’ role to be generated by an independent electoral commission.