Electoral charade

ZANU PF will do anything to stay in power; it will even hold elections, carefully stage-managed, of course.

Despite the recent influx of new candidatures, new splits and fragmentations, new small parties and endless rumours and speculation, the Zimbabwe elections set for March 29 can only be viewed as illegitimate. They need to be treated as such in advance of the actual poll.

The coming polls will be managed with military precision to make them appear like a real election, when they will in fact be a charade, paying lip service to the ideals of democratic elections.

The Zimbabwe regime is fond of acting through “operations”, such as the infamous Operation Murambatsvina — the urban informal sector and informal housing demolition of 2005 which was significantly militarised.

In Operation Maguta, agricultural production was put under the command of the military, while Operation Chikorokodza Chapera (stamping out illegal exploitation of resources) was mainly directed at asserting state control (by military means) of the Marange and Chiadzwa diamond fields in the eastern province of Manicaland.

All these operations were conceived and carried out as a means to protect the ruling elite’s political power and, where possible, provide access to opportunities for enrichment. The election “operation” is no exception.

These operations and coordination efforts are carried out by the State Security Council and the operational body, the Joint Operations Command, which meets weekly, and whose decisions become the policies implemented.

The reforming and removal of the political aspect of the security forces was an issue during talks between Zimbabwean political parties facilitated by the Sadc-mandated South Africa, which was met with little progress.

To determine the legitimacy of an election, one has to look at whether the various players are interested in conducting real elections where voters are able to cast their votes and are adequately informed and know the process, procedures, the issues and the candidates.

In a fair election, the electorate must feel free to vote without constraint or coercion, and be confident that their votes will be counted accurately, and that the poll results will correctly reflect the vote count. The Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections clearly set out what is needed in terms of electoral institutions, and their functioning.

In Zimbabwe, opposition parties and candidates, including the two MDC formations and new entrant Simba Makoni, an “independent” from within Zanu PF, would relish a real election with a campaign period which allows mass media access for all, political campaign meetings without constraints and practical access to, and participation of, all eligible voters.

However, the ruling elite in Zanu PF has a wholly different interest: the control of the state must not be allowed to slip out of their hands. The prospect of that happening is too ghastly for Zanu PF to contemplate — entailing, as it would, the likely unravelling of its webs of corruption and criminal mismanagement, its privilege and wealth, and the investigation of the violence and repression it has visited upon the country.

Nevertheless, the ruling elite does have an interest in creating the appearance of an election taking place, so as to claim legitimacy. But they forget that legitimacy is not principally about how you come to power, but rather the manner in which power is exercised. And so, in Zimbabwe, formal institutions for elections have only been put in place to create the appearance of correct practice.

The composition and independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is questionable, for starters. Senior staff include serving or former military personnel whose subservience to Mugabe’s government is clearly evident.

The Registrar-General’s Office, which is responsible for the voters’ roll, is packed with ruling party activists who make it very difficult for individuals to confirm their status, for interested groups to check that deceased voters have been removed, and for new voters to register.

There is little confidence by the electorate in any of the institutions of state. And confidence can’t simply be restored by the tepid technical voter education being carried out by ZEC, which has declined assistance from highly skilled and professional organisations within the Zimbabwe Election Support Network.

Meanwhile, behind its attempt at a veil of legitimacy, Zanu PF has worked to undermine any threat to its rule. For example, the critical issue of allowing Zimbabweans living abroad (currently estimated at one-third of the population) to vote has not been adequately addressed.

The Delimitation Commission has controversially amalgamated some urban and rural constituencies, and increased the number of rural constituencies in ruling party homelands without parliament’s input.

The state has a broadcast monopoly and is jamming shortwave broadcasts into Zimbabwe by independent radio stations, and there is no independent daily newspaper.

The judicial system has a history of bias and extreme delays in electoral matters.

The state’s participation in the Sadc-sponsored, South Africa-mediated talks with the opposition was characterised by bad faith: its provocative announcement of an election date without the consultation of other interested parties, and the refusal to further examine the question of a new constitution before the polls, compromised the mediation effort.

This was done despite the possibility that the chaos and confusion in the opposition may have presented the ruling elite with an opportunity to win a legitimate election.

But the party can’t risk it, and the conditions on the ground — including the state of the economy with the massive decline of agricultural and industrial production, the catastrophic crisis of employment, incomes and inflation — have created widespread discontent, antagonism and a desire for change.

The gradual, but now nearly total collapse of the education and health systems, the recent increase in electricity blackouts, the breakdown of urban water supply and sanitation, the crisis in the banking system, the tenuousness and inconstancy of telephone communications and the food shortages all militate against the successful holding of an election in March, unless it’s run as a military operation, hiding behind all the electoral institutions.

This is why it must be clear to all that this election won’t be legitimate, but instead an “election operation” whose real objective is to keep Zanu PF in power. It should be stated far and wide by Sadc and African leaders that the holding of illegitimate elections is unacceptable and is condemned in advance.

Zanu PF considers fair elections a threat to its hold on power, and the party has moved to neutralise this threat by turning the polls into a charade.

* The authors — Abel Chikomo, Jonah Gokova, Primrose Matambanadzo, John Stewart and Pius Wakatama

— are activists in civil society, media and church organisations in Zimbabwe, but write here in their personal capacities. — Kubatana.net

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