WHILE Zimbabwe has been enjoying relative peace and harmony during the campaign period leading to the country’s make-or-break general elections slated for July 30, there remains thorny issues related to former president Robert Mugabe’s legacy that are still worrisome, not only to candidates but also to the public in general.
Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
Unlike past successive polls that were marred by violence and intimidation, leading to sanctions and the diplomatic isolation of the country, the current general political climate has largely been calm.
However, there are some of Mugabe’s dictatorial practices being replicated by the so-called new dispensation. These include abuse of public media and state resources, as well as military presence in the rural areas. Despite the constitution providing for independence of broadcasting services to ensure they are insulated from political manipulation, media coverage by publicly-owned institutions like the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimpapers is biased towards the ruling party.
Partisanship by the public media is obtaining despite provisions of the Electoral Act which clearly outline how the media should conduct themselves during election periods.
According to section 160J of the Electoral Act, broadcasters and print publishers should ensure that all political parties and candidates are treated equitably, regarding timing and prominence of the coverage accorded to them. The section also states that news reportage should be fair, complete and factually accurate and that there should be a distinction between objective reporting on the election and editorial comment.
But instead, as in the past, the coverage by ZBC ahead of the polls continues to be the main bone of contention, with opposition parties criticising it for its skewed reportage.
Because of the conflation of the state and ruling party, Zanu PF still has an unfair advantage over its competitors. A good example is the facilitation and funding of the ruling party activities and campaigns by parastatals and state-owned entities. The other problem is the failure by some senior civil servants to distinguish between their public service roles and political party activities.
However, the biggest worry is what was captured in the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute report, examining military presence and fear as key ingredients to manipulating the 2018 elections. According to the report, most of their sampled respondents stated that at least five soldiers have been deployed in their communities. In Mashonaland Central province, 100% of the respondents said more than five soldiers have been spotted in their villages, while in Mashonaland East 88%, Mashonaland West 72%, Masvingo 60%, Midlands 50% and Matabeleland North 38% also concurred.
Around 42% of the respondents said the deployed soldiers move around wearing army uniforms and a snap survey also showed that the soldiers also move around carrying guns and other military equipment.
As in the past elections, nothing good ever comes out such abuse, biases and intimidation except for continued diplomatic isolation and sanctions, which have been a blow to the country and economy. Addressing these issues is critical if the country is to hold credible elections and move forward.