Since the emergence of the MDC in 1999 as a strong contender for power on the Zimbabwean political landscape, elections have virtually become synonymous with violence and murder, although this has always been the case.
According to recent surveys by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ), most prospective voters say they fear the recurrence of violence and intimidation similar to that before the June 2008 presidential run-off.
The 2008 election violence, which raised the spectre of the 1985 vicious polls, left a trail of destruction of property, murder and thousands of internally-displaced persons. The ZESN report calls for tangible reforms before the next elections to guarantee voters’ safety before, during and after the polls.
ZESN director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said political reforms would pave way for the holding of free and fair elections. She said if polls were to be held under the current environment and conditions, the outcome would be disputed again, underlining people’s fear of political violence during elections.
“People are saying they are scared of the possibility of a repeat of the 2008 bloodbath and they want guarantees that such an event will not take place again,” said Chipfunde-Vava.
“Our outreach programmes revealed that people do not think there is a conducive environment for elections and they are saying nothing has changed since 2008 to suggest that we can hold peaceful elections. They are scared,” she said.
CCDZ coordinator George Makoni said most communities feel that people and the country had not yet healed from the ordeal and trauma of the previous elections. Makoni said during the CCDZ outreach programmes people expressed apprehension about elections because of the horrors of the past.
“Zimbabweans have expressed fear in the holding of early elections any time soon,” said Makoni. “There is a general feeling that chances of the elections turning bloody are high, especially in rural areas. In Chihota, for example, people felt that early elections would see the country getting into another cycle of political violence. They felt that Zimbabweans have not yet healed from the 2008 elections trauma,” he said.
The CCDZ report says the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation’s initiative has not done much to heal the wounds to ensure amicable settlements of conflicts and peace among the people. Those surveyed said they had not encountered the organ’s staff in their communities promoting healing and reconciliation.
The MDC-T shares civil society observations and concerns that minimum conditions for credible polls must be met before the country goes to the next elections. As a result, the party has called for reforms before the next elections.
“The Zimbabwe electoral environment is heavily skewed in favour of one political party, hence systematic violence has been at the epicentre of unsustainable and illegitimate elections that we have had in Zimbabwe,” the MDC-T says in its proposal for reforms.
“All the elections we have held in this country (1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008) have been marred by electoral violence and intimidation that has disenfranchised thousands of Zimbabweans.”
The MDC-T report further points out hundreds of people were killed and thousands displaced during the past elections, poisoning the electoral environment.
“The MDC will not allow Zimbabweans to participate in another bloodbath such as the one witnessed in 2008. To prevent this, it is fundamentally critical that major reforms and programmes are implemented and executed to prevent intimidation and violence,” the report says.
It also demands a full audit of the electoral process at all key stages “as well as to ensure the timeous announcement of election results by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission itself through its chairman or other commissioners”.
The party wants the automation and computerisation of the electoral process, starting with the expected new voters roll and election results.
The Electoral Act Amendment Bill expected to usher reforms is still before parliament. The Global Political Agreement and the supplementary elections roadmap provide a clear route and what should be done before the next elections, including a new constitution.