…Manipulation signs visible

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An election officer takes the voter's biometric records.

SIGNS of a systematic manipulation of electoral processes ahead of this year’s harmonised elections slated for July are beginning to show, an electoral monitoring body says.

By Wongai Zhangazha

In a discussion paper titled: Outposts of electoral vulnerabilities — understanding systematic manipulation, released this week, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) said political parties, civil society and other stakeholders should be vigilant since the country is the pre-election period, which is characterised by key processes including voter registration, recruitment of personnel, and provision of voter information.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is currently implementing Biometric Voter Registration (BVR), cleaning the voters’ roll and preparing for voter education ahead of the inspection of the voters’ roll.

The voter registration process is ongoing at provincial and district centres, following the BVR blitz in 2017 and the mop-up exercise which concluded on February 8, 2018,
“During the implementation of these processes, it is important for stakeholders, including political parties and civil society organisations, to closely monitor to detect any potential for systematic manipulation of electoral processes,” the ERC paper says.

“This discussion paper addresses systematic manipulation as the now dominant form of ‘rigging’ in Zimbabwe . . . As the election approaches in 2018, such ‘cunning’ methodologies of campaigning are beginning to show.”

The manipulation methods highlighted in the report include limitation of right to vote, vote-buying, intimidation by traditional leaders, undue influence on Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), unconstitutional electoral reforms, unfair media coverage and suppression of voters.

The ERC said signs of vote-buying were on the increase as seen by a rise in cases of citizens given food hampers, rice, farming inputs on partisan bases. The electoral body said such practices were tantamount to bribing of voters.

Some traditional leaders, the document says, were intimidating voters by, among other things, demanding serial numbers of voter registration certificates, although they should not be involved in politics, according the constitution.

The ERC said unaligned sections of the Electoral Act open up electoral processes to possible systematic manipulation and these include provisions for the Electoral Court, restrictions on voter education, accreditation of observers among others.

The continued biased reporting by both public media is also seen as a sign of possible systematic manipulation of electoral processes.

“State media reporting is biased towards the ruling party despite the fact that all citizens, opposition or not, are taxpayers. The Electoral Act only provides for monitoring of media coverage after proclamation which could be a little late as one party would have gained ground,” states the paper.

The paper says that while rules of electoral processes must apply equally to all societal groups and demography, evidence of urban voter suppression in urban areas need verification and follow up for immediate redress.

“The numbers of BVR kits deployed in Harare and Bulawayo led to long queues towards the end of the mop-up exercise while those in rural communities were hardly functional as registration thresholds were achieved before the mop-up exercise,” it says.

The elections watch non-governmental organisation listed a number of recommendations so as to avoid systematic manipulation of electoral processes which are; strengthen legal provisions for election laws; strengthen the administrative framework to limit manipulation through enhanced accountability and transparency; support and fund the role of other state institutions in supporting democracy and enhancing transparency and accountability and the deployment of political parties election agents at each polling station and surrounding areas during implementation of electoral processes.

“The theatre of electoral manipulation in Zimbabwe has long shifted from the polling station (fraud and malpractice) to the political environment (systematic manipulation).

Systematic manipulation usually happens prior to the election season. Election stakeholders need to comprehensively monitor electoral processes and ensure they possess a thorough understanding of areas of possible manipulation,” it notes.

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