THE political furore over the postal voting process, the latest battlefront between opposition parties and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has fuelled political tensions ahead of general elections on July 30.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
A row erupted on Thursday last week between the MDC Alliance, Zec and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) after it emerged police officers had clandestinely voted in Bulawayo.
The issue was taken to court, but it ruled there was nothing wrong with what happened in Bulawayo. However, political tensions are already running high.
“Today on the 12th of July there has been massive voting at police cantonments around the country, in particular at Ross Camp police station in the city of Bulawayo where thousands of members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police are casting their vote,” MDC Alliance principal, Tendai Biti, told journalists last week.
“We have seen images of this. Images of this are circulating on social media.”
As a result, the opposition party made an application to the High Court to nullify the votes which they claim was held under the watchful eye of their superiors in contravention of the law. It ruled against them.
According to the Electoral Act, voters who will not be able to get to their polling stations on polling day on state duty can apply to Zec for a postal vote. Zec sends each applicant a ballot paper for each election — Presidential, Constituency and Local Authorities — plus an envelope marked with details of their polling station. The voter then puts an X on each ballot paper opposite the candidate of his or her choice, seals each ballot paper into its envelope and sends the envelopes back to Zec. Zec then distributes the envelopes, in tamper-proof packets, to the voters’ polling stations where they are counted along with the ordinary votes.
However, revelations by Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba on a local radio programme this week that the commission was yet to complete the printing of ballot paper for council elections, shows that the postal votes were only for presidential and parliamentary candidates.
The failure by Zec to provide the ballot paper for councillors therefore deprived the police officers the chance to vote for their representatives at local government level.
The brouhaha over the unprocedural postal voting process was worsened by the outright denial by Zec’s acting chief elections officer Utloile Silaigwana that postal voting by police officers had been conducted in Bulawayo.
“This is hogwash and very stupid propaganda because in the first place they have photos of a police officer standing near a ballot box yet with postal voting a voter doesn’t use a ballot box,” Silaigwana told the Herald online edition.
“Postal is an individual who says I am applying for postal voting and he or she is given a ballot paper in an envelope and he returns it sealed.
“This is cheap propaganda without substance at all. This is coming from a person who doesn’t even understand the process. The pictures they put have nothing to do with postal vote and these people just want cause despondency in the country.”
This strong denial was, however, in stark contrast to the revelation by Zec commissioner Qhubani Moyo, on that same evening, showing that the election supervisory body which is supposed to be spearheading the process was in the dark over the voting process that had taken place that day.
“After speaking to senior Assistant Commissioner Makodza ZRP commander on 2018 elections about police postal votes, he says some police officers who applied for postal votes because they will be out of their stations on election day administered their postal ballots in secrecy in Bulawayo today,” Moyo said.
“The process will happen all over the country and in diplomatic missions, but these ballots should be at Zec HQ by 16 July 2018. There is no requirement for Zec to be present when individuals vote, Zec meets their ballots when they courier them to the CEO who in turn sends them to respective polling stations where they are opened on election day and counted with the rest of the ballots casts on that day! 7 000 Zimbabweans qualified for postal votes for this election.”
Analysts say Moyo’s remarks clearly showed that the roles have been reversed with Zec relying on the ZRP for information of the process they are supposed to manage and superintend.
The online rebuttal by Silaigwana was removed overnight with the Herald issue of the next day reporting that the chief elections officer was announcing the beginning of the postal voting process.
On the same day, the Herald’s sister paper, the Bulawayo-based Chronicle, however, carried a story based on the online denial by Silaigwana, reflecting the chaos engulfing the whole process.
Given that the state media is generally seen to be parroting government opinion and position in their editorials, the two contrasting articles authored by the same journalists only added to the chaos surrounding the whole affair.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said the confusion over the postal votes shows that Zec might not be in charge of the process.
“The most depressing thing is the reality that Zec is not ready for the elections,” Mandaza said.
“Firstly Zec did not know what was happening and secondly the votes were only for presidential and parliamentary candidates. It raises the question over who is in charge of the election.”
Mandaza said the disorderly fashion in which the elections had been carried out strengthens the long-held belief that the military is in charge of the election with Zec being a mere appendage to the process.
Concerns over the shambolic handling of the postal voting process were heightened by Zec’s failure to meet its own set deadlines for receiving the ballots.
Some of the postal voters such as Zimbabwean ambassador to Senegal, Trudy Stevenson, only received their ballots on Monday, the deadline date.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the postal voting debacle has blemished the credibility of Zec.
“The process that was held without local, regional and international observers, complicated by the concerns over the ballot box and other cumulative issues, tarnishes the reputation of Zec and the process and the outcome of the election,” Masunungure pointed out. “It puts a blemish on Zec and government.”
He said although Zec could defend it legally, this would not stand from a political point of view especially after its credibility was tarnished by the way it conducted the disputed presidential run-off of 2008.
The process, which was marred by violence and condemned worldwide, was declared free and fair by Zec, to the shock and disbelief of Zimbabweans.