THE frenzy of excitement that has been created by the emergence of a three-horse race in the presidential poll should not blind the nation to the fact that the electoral process itself â€” currently being manipulated by President Mugabeâ€™s government â€” remains a key factor in the outcome of the election.
Opposition needs to be heard too
We have watched since last year â€” when Zanu PF and the opposition agreed on electoral processes as part of the South African-brokered talks â€” the deliberate violation of basic tenets of fairness by the ruling party. What makes this so egregious is the fact that Zanu PF is thumbing its nose at principles and processes that it committed itself to respect during the inter-party talks. It is our view that not much has changed in Zanu PFâ€™s mindset since the disputed elections of 2002 and 2005.
There appears to be a concerted effort by the Zanu PF government to place as many impediments in the path as possible to thwart opponents and their voters. Oppressive regimes the world over have been accused of employing crude methods of rigging polls like stuffing ballot boxes and destroying ballots cast in favour of rivals. While the Zanu PF government does not necessarily employ these tactics, it has mastered the art of manipulating the process to its advantage â€” from the voter registration exercise right up to the process of voting.
This is despite the fact that the government has committed itself to conducting elections according to the norms and standards of Sadc and also with due respect to the laws of Zimbabwe.
When President Thabo Mbeki started his mediation effort between Zanu PF and the MDC last year, he said his ultimate goal was to ensure that the dialogue would lead to an election whose outcome was acceptable to all political players. This in our view was tacit admission that for a long time the electoral playing field has been uneven and skewed in favour of Zanu PF. It is still very much so.
The dialogue has failed to render dysfunctional the traditional Zanu PF election-rigging machinery. It is business as usual as is evidenced by events on the ground. There have been reports of police preventing the opposition from campaigning by banning rallies and public meetings. The amendment to the Public Order and Security Act allowing parties to canvass support without impediments do not appear to matter here as police continue to take instruction from politicians. We still have a police force that has been schooled to associate opposition politics with criminality and to treat the ruling party with reverence.
There are also glaring disparities in the allocation of airtime to political parties with Zanu PF getting unlimited coverage in the public media, both electronic and print. We see little hope in efforts by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to right the situation. At the moment Zanu PF campaign stories â€” all with a refrain imploring television viewers to vote for Zanu PF â€” are receiving at least 80% of airtime on the main news bulletin. The commission has said it is putting together a team to monitor the media and correct the situation. This is a futile exercise which will only result in cosmetic changes a few days before the polls when opposition parties will be featured on television and radio. State broadcaster ZBC would rather take instruction from government spin doctors than engage in the ethical practice of providing equitable media access to all political parties.
The irony of all this is that shadowy political parties which popped up this year have been receiving extensive coverage on television and radio compared to the MDC.
On the issue of the media, there are still areas in the country where intelligence officers and Zanu PF hoodlums prevent independent newspapers from being distributed, therefore blocking votersâ€™ access to information about alternative political voices.
We also noticed a myriad of impediments placed in the path of urban voters during the voter registration exercise where in places young voters staying with parents were asked to bring in bills with their names on them as proof of residence. It has been reported that known opposition supporters and officials trying to check their names at inspection centres at police stations were subjected to serious abuse by suborned officers.
While other countries in the region have ceded the responsibility to invite observers and monitors of polls to independent electoral bodies, our commission still does not have such powers. The task of inviting monitors and observers has continued to rest with the government which invites only cheer leaders for Zanu PF.
There is all the evidence that our government has ceased to care about the legitimacy of its actions especially now when there is a real threat to its rule. It is all about political survival and not how a stolen election would sink this country further.