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Comment : ZEC the weakest link

THE Zimbabwe Independent said two weeks ago the election process was already so seriously flawed that there was little prospect of a free and fair outcome. Today that is undeniable.

On Monday a Statutory Instrument was gazetted which reversed amendments made to the Electoral Act in January. Those changes were the product of South African-mediated inter-party talks.
Under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Amendment of Electoral Act) (No 2) Regulations, 2008 “police officers on duty” are now restored to the list of persons who may be present in a polling station to assist illiterate or incapacitated voters. They had been removed from the list by the recent much-trumpeted Electoral Laws Amendment Act.
The amendment to the Electoral Act in January has been held aloft by Zanu PF as emblematic of its commitment to electoral reforms as required by the 2004 Sadc guidelines and the inter-party agreement. Those reforms were designed to bring Zimbabwe into conformity with the Sadc norms by establishing a national consensus on electoral architecture and procedures.
President Mugabe has driven a coach and horses through those reforms by unilaterally declaring the election date on March 29 and now restoring the role of the police in “assisting” infirm voters by way of an edict.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has proved supine in safeguarding its independence. It has allowed the government to arrogate to itself the right to accredit observers and foreign journalists for the election.It has made only belated attempts to secure access for opposition parties to the public media. And it has proved unable to comment on statements made by service chiefs which appear to intimidate the electorate.
Justice George Chiweshe who was boasting of the ZEC’s independence only a few weeks ago now says it is not within the electoral supervisory body’s jurisdiction to comment on such statements.
“It will not do things which are not within its mandate,” he said this week.
The prisons and armed forces chiefs have both said they will not acknowledge opposition leaders if they win the poll. Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri said last week the force would not allow British and American “puppets” to rule Zimbabwe.
This is the language of the ruling party. Now, the same police force whose chief will determine which candidates can be classed as puppets is to gain admission to polling booths to assist voters who need help in casting their ballots.
This makes a mockery of the inter-party agreement on electoral reform and demonstrates the insincerity of the ruling party which has portrayed its agreement to the amended Act, together with changes to Posa and Aippa, as indicative of its willingness to establish a national consensus.
President Thabo Mbeki who has been active in this project will now be able to see the limitations of his diplomacy. But regional observers are already expressing their determination to approve the electoral process despite the all-too-visible gaping holes.
Sadc mission head José Marcus Barrica of Angola has said he was impressed by his initial assessment of the political environment.
That no doubt includes exclusion of opposition views from the public media, exclusion of observers and journalists unwilling to sanitise a rigged poll, and threats by service chiefs which will have a chilling effect on the electorate.
No doubt Zimbabwe’s experience compares favourably with Angola. But that is an invidious benchmark.
Then there is the abuse of public resources and undisguised inducements that give the ruling party a clear advantage. Not a day passes without a presidential promise or gift of some sort. What is clearly “treating” under the law is an established custom in Zimbabwe at election time.
As Mugabe’s predicament becomes more perilous with each day of economic decline, so we are likely to see more explicit attempts at coercion. A partisan media, suborned service chiefs, a police force unwilling to exercise an even hand, and an electoral regulatory body completely at sea in this toxic political climate, all point to an outcome that is anything but free or fair.
The whole point of the Sadc intervention that commenced last March was to avoid a disputed poll and further uncertainty that made Zimbabwe a liability in the region.
Instead it looks as if they will get more of the same.

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