Comment: ZEC Needs To Rescue Its Reputation

AS the country prepares for the run-off election next month, it is already clear that things are not as they should be.

 

Zimbabwe is manifestly in breach of the Mauritius protocol on electoral conduct which regional states pledged to uphold at Grand Baie in 2004.

That document sought to establish uniform principles that would ensure a level electoral playing field. These include full public participation in the political process, access to the public media, and supervision of the electoral process by an independent regulatory body.

In Zimbabwe’s case the supervisory body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, has proved to be less than independent. It has failed to ensure that election dates are approved by all parties, allowed government to arrogate to itself the process of inviting foreign observers, and remained silent when President Mugabe unilaterally amended the electoral law to restore the role of the police at polling stations.

That law had earlier been amended, among other things, to exclude the police from polling stations by agreement between the ruling party and the opposition. The government had held up that amendment as emblematic of its willingness to work within a framework of consultation and consensus.

There is no sign of that now. We have had service chiefs giving their opinions on the suitability of candidates, MPs arrested for holding routine consultative meetings with their constituents, and editors incarcerated for allowing opposition leaders to express their views in their newspapers.

All this has occurred against a background of political violence that has included the abduction, torture and in some cases murder of opposition political activists. Zanu PF has made it clear that it believes the electorate made a mistake on March 29 which needs to be corrected. There have been remarkably few prosecutions in the wake of this mayhem, except of course for members of the MDC.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai this week was quoted by Reuters as saying over 50 people have been killed in the past six weeks. More than 25 000 people have been displaced. “I’ve been saddened that Zimbabweans are willing to shed the blood of other Zimbabweans over political differences,” Tsvangirai said in Harare. “We are proceeding to compile the names of those who’ve committed the crimes. We will approach the attorney-general to do something about it. I don’t believe that anyone who has murdered someone should be forgiven. It is a criminal act to murder someone.”

The MDC says police have taken a partisan stance in dealing with political violence, taking sides with Zanu PF supporters. Police chief Augustine Chihuri was quoted on Wednesday as saying the force had a duty to defend the country from what he called a threat from foreign powers and their local puppets. “The nation is facing a myriad of challenges and machinations by external forces and their internal sympathisers, who I normally call puppets,” Chihuri said at a ceremony in Harare. “Its very existence and survival is threatened by these puppets and their handlers.”

Chihuri said Zimbabweans had to be clear in their understanding of what 100% empowerment and total independence means. “It means revamping and overhauling the system in the manufacturing and mining sectors, as done in the agricultural sector.” He also accused businesses of raising prices of goods and services to force regime change.

These views closely reflect those of President Mugabe. Zanu PF has made “100% empowerment and total independence” its campaign slogan. Given the worrying levels of political violence, it is important that those entrusted with law enforcement avoid any impression of partisan bias. The opposition MDC won a majority of votes on March 29, it will be argued, precisely because voters rejected the crass mantras of the regime and its supporters. They unambiguously rejected the claims of Mugabe to be protecting the nation from foreign powers and their puppets. And they regard the damage to the economy as entirely self-inflicted.

Regime change is arguably what elections are about. The public have the right to change their rulers from time to time if they believe they have performed poorly. The climate of threats and coercion against those seeking democratic change makes a mockery of the Mauritius terms.

There is another dimension to this. Zanu PF may talk about 100% empowerment but that empowerment will not come without investment and loans. Zimbabwe’s economy is currently on the rocks because those managing it thought they could get by with crude assertions of nationalist identity and threats against business. We see the cost of those policies in the unemployment figures and plummeting GDP. This will in turn impact upon the region as an investment destination. Regional leaders need to understand the dangers of nodding through a defective election.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has just a few weeks to restore its reputation. That means standing up to political pressure and fulfilling the role expected of it at Grand Baie.

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