By Pedzisai Ruhanya
THE administration of elections, their context as well as the content under which they take place have been contested issues in post-Independent Zimbabwe and so are some of the individuals managing the elections.
In any critical political transition relative to the management of credible elections it is important to address both the institutional and personnel inadequacies of the systems governing the process.
Elections in Zimbabwe should not be reduced to a simple issue of “free and fair” because this does not do justice to the process which is far more complex than that.
The Commonwealth has argued phraseology such as “free and fair” or “representing the will of the people” has largely been abandoned by international election observers over the past decade. Instead, they call elections either “credible” or “not credible”.
It is in this context that I seek to interrogate the credibility or otherwise of Zimbabwe’s electoral institutions and the personnel involved.
It is the constitutional responsibility of any citizen to scrutinise democratic processes with credible arguments and evidence as long as it does not border on slander against public officials responsible for running public institutions.
In this regard, the personnel of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) and the Registrar-General’s office should be subjected to public scrutiny with a view to increasing public accountability and transparency in the political systems relative to the administration of elections.
These two institutions and the individuals running them have been part of the crisis the country is faced with, not forgetting the political players, the repressive or coercive apparatus and other institutions such as the media, churches, compromised and “Zanufied” intellectuals and the arts sector.
I will concentrate on the ZEC, the Registrar-General’s Office and the women and men who make these institutions fail the nation.
Joyce Kazembe has been with the ZEC since its predecessor the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) as its vice-chairperson. She has been with the electoral management body since 1996, which makes 16 years now.
This means Kazembe was involved in the 1996 presidential run-off in which President Robert Mugabe contested alone after the late nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole pulled out alleging electoral malpractices. Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede was also part of the electoral team as the Registrar of elections.
Kazembe was also part of the 2000, 2002, 2005 and the 2008 violent and hotly-disputed presidential election run-off deemed not credible by Zimbabweans, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU), leading to the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008, and consequently the consummation of the inclusive government in February 2009.
During the 2008 election, Kazembe was vice-chairperson of the ZEC, deputising retired Brigadier-General George Chiweshe, now High Court Judge President. Chiweshe got promoted to the current post after running the sham June 2008 poll.
These are the five elections Kazembe was involved in. It is crucial to note that in two of the presidential elections, Mugabe was a lone contestant in 1996 and June 2008. Kazembe and her colleagues did not see anything untoward about such processes and they declared Mugabe the winner.
In the 2002 and 2005 elections Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba — recently promoted by Mugabe — was the ESC chief elections officer. Kazembe was deputy chair to Sobusa Gula-Ndebele.
It was during that period that Nyikayaramba allegedly recruited intelligence officers, soldiers and Zanu PF activists into the secretariat of the then ESC, now ZEC. Kazembe and Gula-Ndebele did not raise issue with a serving army general running an election in which his commander-in-chief, Mugabe, was a candidate. How bad can things get?
The 2002 presidential election process and outcome was disputed on account of violence, intimidation and political murders as well as the involvement of the security apparatus outside the provisions of the Defence Act and the Electoral Act. It was a controversial victory for Mugabe that Kazembe and her colleagues presided over and declared “free and fair”.
So why should the public trust people like Kazembe with running elections again given their appalling record?
What further boggles the mind are purely arrogant and misguided outbursts by Kazembe that the ZEC secretariat is professional and her claims there is no infiltration by the security forces. Such kind of arrogance is deplorable.
Let us take a look back at how the ZEC administered the March 2008 elections including the sham June presidential poll run-off. Kazembe was at the time deputy to Chiweshe.
The June 2008 run-off was marked by just about everything the Electoral Act forbids; political violence, abductions, enforced disappearances, arson and killings. Before that there were suspicious and alarming delays in releasing the results of the first round of the presidential election.
The ZEC, under Chiweshe and Kazembe, did not see anything wrong with all this. It took the majority of political players, ordinary citizens, Sadc and the AU to say the run-off was not credible and thus Mugabe’s “victory” was a sham.
The point is that Zimbabweans are not fools; they are not ahistorical, they know their electoral history and those who are part and parcel of the problem.
It is not only ZEC staff that cannot administer credible elections but some of the commissioners like Kazembe who should be stopped from running elections not only because we have hard evidence of past incompetence and malpractices, but also current inadequacies.
Kazembe should tell Zimbabweans why they endorsed discredited electoral outcomes as credible. Is she not bothered her name is now associated with disputed election results? Has she not had enough of the job having been there for more than a decade now?
These same questions should be asked of Tobaiwa Mudede, the Registrar-General who has been in his post for a longer period. Apart from the 1980 elections, Mudede has been involved in the administration of polls since 1985 which took place amid the Gukurahundi massacre. How can an election that takes place under circumstances of genocide and crimes against humanity be deemed credible? The 1985 election was the worst so far, followed by the June 2008 run-off.
It is vital that when Zimbabweans, especially political players, human rights and political activists talk about the need for credible elections they not only focus on the ZEC. Focusing on the ZEC while leaving out critical players is not helpful and would not assist the country secure necessary reforms and democratise our electoral institutions.
When dealing with political transitions, it is important to learn something from the theory of elite continuity so that there are no face powder changes that fail to produce desired institutional renewal. As reforms take place at the institutional level, it is also imperative to make sure that the elites that preside over repression and electoral malpractices also pack their bags if they are not willing to reform and adopt a new political culture of transparency and democratic accountability.
The elite continuity theory postulates that in most transitions, there are considerable continuities in both institutions and personalities between the old regime and the new establishment. In the case of the media, the institutions that emerged after the fall of a prior regime are controlled and influenced by the new political elite. There is a high degree of continuity in structures and personnel, political interference into broadcasting and a partisan state-controlled press, just as is the case at the ZEC.
Zanu PF, like the Rhodesian Front, has staffed institutions such as state-controlled ZBC and Zimpapers with party surrogates who sing for their supper and do hatchet jobs for their incompetent and illegitimate political handlers. The party workers in these institutions and their ideologues who masquerade as commentators in newspapers, radio and television are part of this well-orchestrated process to control and run state institutions in service of these elites.
These continuities also replicate themselves at the ZEC and the Registrar-General’s office. This is all designed to ensure Zanu PF elites continue to cling to power by brute force.
These and others are well-crafted and thought out processes by Zanu PF to entrench itself in power without the democratic consent of the people of Zimbabwe.
Ruhanya is a PhD candidate in Media and Democracy at the University of Westminster, London.