FEARS that next weekâ€™s elections will be rigged by President Robert Mugabeâ€™s regime heightened this week with opposition parties raising new complaints about a flawed electoral process.
This week Mugabe proved that he has manipulated the electoral rules on the hoof for political advantage. On Monday he used emergency powers to amend the law to allow the police access to polling stations to assist infirm and illiterate voters. The Statutory Instrument effectively reverses changes effected through the Electoral Laws Amendment Act signed into law on January 11, in line with an agreement between Zanu PF and the MDC.
Well-placed sources said Mugabeâ€™s diehards were prepared to rig the elections to save the ruling Zanu PF and its leader from possible defeat.
Mugabe has become hugely unpopular both in the urban and rural areas due to the deepening economic and social problems. The election campaigns have shown that he has fallen out of favour with the masses and now relies on stage-managed rallies where people are bussed or coerced to attend.
It is now generally acknowledged by Mugabeâ€™s advisors and critics alike that short of rigging he will not win next weekâ€™s polls. The Zimbabwe Independent has it on good authority Mugabe was two weeks ago told by his top security advisors he would not win over 50% of the vote unless a lot of â€œhard workâ€ was done to help him out before the polls.
If no candidate wins over 50% a run-off follows within three weeks, although there are doubts over this due to conflicting clauses in the Electoral Act, but a senior lawyer said yesterday the clause on the run-off takes precedence because it is more recent.
Mugabeâ€™s advisors said opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had become an unexpected threat to Mugabe and could win if Zanu PF did not step up its efforts to stop him. They said the other main candidate Simba Makoni was initially a threat but was receding, although he still posed a danger chipping away at Mugabeâ€™s rural support base.
This week Mugabeâ€™s advisors said it was possible for him to scrape through with a 50% margin. Insiders said this referred to winning by fair means or foul.
A survey conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute recently shows Tsvangirai leading, followed by Mugabe and then Makoni. It showed that none of the candidates could win 50%.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai are likely to go to the run-off if it happens, in which case the incumbent will almost certainly lose. However, the sources said Mugabe and his advisors would not allow the election to go that far.
The sources said the outcome of the elections â€” mainly the presidential poll â€” would be determined by the systematic and technical manipulation of the ballot. Vote-buying, as shown by the distribution of farming equipment, maize, buses, computers and hiking salaries of civil servants will also be decisive.
They said the ground has been laid to ensure a predetermined outcome in the elections. Rigging methods that could be used include a reduction of polling stations and ballot papers in urban areas, slowing down the voting process, turning away voters and hence disenfranchisement, fiddling with the numbers of ballots, fraudulently playing around with the structure of the votersâ€™ roll and gerrymandering.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which was supposed to have been reconstituted before the elections to restore its credibility in terms of the talks between Zanu PF and MDC, has remained unreformed.
ZEC chairman Justice George Chiweshe, appointed by Mugabe, is widely seen as a Zanu PF supporter.
ZEC did not consult opposition parties before drawing up constituency boundaries as required by the law, hence claims of gerrymandering.
Makoniâ€™s group last Friday held a meeting in Harare with the Sadc election observer mission to table a list of rigging mechanisms used to fix the vote. The group told Sadc observers that a team of CIO officers had been deployed to ZEC to rig the polls. It released the names of the officers involved.
The reduction in the number of polling stations in urban areas â€” MDC strongholds â€” effectively decided the outcome of the intensely disputed 2002 presidential election which was controversially won by Mugabe by 400 000 votes from a questionable supplementary votersâ€™ roll.
The same trick is likely to be repeated next week. The evidence is clear: ZEC statistics show that Harare â€” the province with the biggest number of constituencies â€” only has 722 polling stations compared to Matabeleland North which has 755 polling stations. Harare has 29 constituencies, while Matabeleland North has 13.
If the polling stations are reduced in Harare it means thousands of opposition supporters would not all be able to vote. Although Matabeleland North is also an opposition base, Zanu PF is still capable of picking rural votes from there.
The Zanu PF strongholds of Mashonaland provinces, Midlands and Masvingo also have a lot of polling stations compared to Harare.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) chairperson Noel Kututwa said the list of polling stations contains â€œsignificant errors and relatively few polling stations in Bulawayo and Harare provincesâ€.
Kututwa said there was a significant discrepancy in the number of registered voters per polling station for different provinces.
â€œThere should be some variation, but the number of registered voters per polling station in Bulawayo and Harare is more than twice that of the other provinces,â€ he said.
â€œThe situation is similar in Gweru and Mutare municipalities where the average number of registered voters per polling station is 1 234,8 and 1 277,3 respectively. As a result, the average voter in Harare province will need to be processed in 22 seconds.â€
Government claims urban provinces proportionally and in real terms have fewer polling stations compared to rural ones even in cases where urban ones are far bigger because polling stations in towns are more accessible, an argument not technically sound. The number of polling stations in each province is supposed to be determined by the number of voters, not the proximity of the polling booths.
This issue was hotly contested in the Supreme Court just a day before the 2002 election but the court reserved judgement, only to dismiss the case after the polls on technical grounds. However, thousands of urban voters, especially in Harare, did not vote.
In the same way as 2002, thousands of people are likely to fail to vote in Harare again.
Besides, the votersâ€™ roll has been used in rigging. In 2002 it was discovered Tsvangirai in reality won because there were more voters registered in urban areas compared to rural areas, but that has now been reversed. Now there are more rural than urban voters.
The votersâ€™ roll also contains ghost voters. MDC MP Trudy Stevenson this week revealed that former Rhodesian Law and Order minister Desmond Lardner-Burke, born in 1908, was still on the votersâ€™ roll for Mt Pleasant constituency, although he died some years ago. His wife, born in 1912, is also still on the votersâ€™ roll.
Opposition and independent monitoring groups this week said numerous errors on the votersâ€™ rolls opened the elections to rigging. Lawyers on Monday filed an application at the High Court demanding that the registrar of voters to supply them with electronic copies of the roll which is easy to inspect.