BY SYDNEY KAWADZA
ZIMBABWE is moving towards another disputed election if the government and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) fail to address challenges around the conducting of polls, analysts have said.
According to observers who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week, there are serious fears that Zimbabweans have lost confidence in electoral processes.
The challenges, chief among them voter apathy, include the government’s failure to institute electoral reforms, a constricted democratic space and difficulties in voter registration especially by youths.
Apathy, the stakeholders said, could also affect political parties’ ambitious targets for their presidential candidates in the 2023 elections. The ruling Zanu PF is targeting five million votes for President Mnangagwa while Nelson Chamisa’s Citizens’ Coalition for Charge (CCC) aims for six million votes.
Approximately five million people participated in the 2018 harmonised elections which were settled in the Constitutional Court confirming Mnangagwa’s victory.
Political pundits warned that with ZEC associated with the ruling Zanu PF, many Zimbabweans were likely to snub the elections. However, other observers said the worsening social, political and economic situation could see more Zimbabweans taking part in the plebiscite to challenge Zanu PF rule since independence.
In an interview, Election Resources Centre (ERC) executive director Barbra Bhebhe said registration figures reported by ZEC were low and it was highly unlikely that these would increase given the unresolved issue of identity documents.
“Most young people that turned 18 since the last elections do not have national identity documents while there has not been a deliberate effort by the Registrar General’s Office to enable them to acquire the IDs. Without an ID, one is unable to register as a voter,” Bhebhe said.
She said there should be efforts to have the biometric registration run concurrently with the issuing of IDs by the Registrar General’s Office. ZEC has since indicated that BVR and voter registration would run concurrently with issuance of IDs in the second phase of the blitz.
“The ongoing BVR blitz is reportedly said to have begun on a low note especially in Bulawayo. This is particularly disappointing for Matabeleland which has the least number of registered voters in the country,” she said.
Bhebhe said the southern regions risk losing constituencies during the delimitation exercise.
“This will enhance citizens’ participation in elections. Otherwise, these pronouncements remain wishful thinking,” Bhebhe added.
ZEC, according to Bhebhe, needs to be more prepared for the second phase of the BVR blitz as the current phase faced several glitches, for instance, the accreditation centre for Bulawayo was set up on the third day of the blitz and this denied civil society an opportunity to monitor the first day of the process.
“This has the potential to affect the credibility of an electoral process. In addition, to counter voter apathy, there is a need for political parties to desist from using threatening language during the campaign.”
Bhebhe added that there was a need for the implementation of key electoral reforms to help enhance the confidence of the voter in the elections. The ERC is engaged in various activities to promote voter registration while engaging ZEC on a number of issues.
She, however, added that there was a likelihood of a shrinking operating space for CSOs posed by the PVO Amendment Bill currently before Parliament.
“This could restrict civic education and mobilisation efforts. There are issues of limitations in resources. Economic hardships make it difficult for citizens to participate in electoral democracy issues as people are preoccupied with fending for their families,” Bhebhe said.
CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said besides the six million votes for Chamisa, the party was targeting two-thirds majority in Parliament and a clean sweep in urban and rural local authorities.
“The data tells us that president Chamisa got well over two million votes in 2018. The data further indicates that we have a youth bulge that allows for each vote obtained in 2018 to be multiplied by three.
“In other words, if each voter recruits another two, we comfortably attain the six million mark. We are well aware of the enormity of the task ahead and are cranking up the machine to energise the base, recruit the young and ensure the vote is defended come 2023,” she said.
Mahere added: “It’s no secret that Zanu PF is in panic mode as yellow fever has gripped the nation and caused a wave of citizen engagement they did not predict.”
She accused Zanu PF of abusing state institutions to suppress the vote through denying young people ID cards adding that ZEC had failed to take seriously its constitutional mandate to conduct voter education and registration geared towards first time voters as required by Section 239 of the Constitution.
“No public education campaigns have been conducted. There is no signage at voter registration venues. They have failed to adequately publicise the locations of mobile registration centres.
“Machines have been down in areas such as Mabvuku. Their personnel have failed to travel to rural communities such as UMP due to broken road infrastructure amidst other failures on their part.
“We continue to hold them accountable by exposing the voter suppression tactics and demanding lawful, rational and sincere voter registration and education so that the blitz does not fail,” she said.
Mahere said Zimbabweans must continue to raise their voices, stand up to the system and defend the right to vote adding that there must be reform and demilitarisation of the ZEC secretariat, the opening up of state media, a transparent delimitation process and a verifiable voters’ roll in line with our electoral reform agenda.
ZEC spokesperson Joyce Kazembe had not yet responded to written enquiries she had requested at the time of writing.
Meanwhile, Southern Africa Liaison Office senior programme advisor Munjodzi Mutandiri said Zimbabwe was “night walking” into another disputed electoral outcome if the 2023 elections are held under the current conditions.
“There is an urgent need for reforms, particularly electoral reforms. The discredited Polad’s 18 urgent reforms shows that there is consensus that reforms are a necessity to move Zimbabwe forward,” he said.
Mutandiri called for access to the state media by opposition parties, the restructuring of ZEC, delimitation of constituencies and cleaning of the voters roll ahead of the elections.
“Sadc has to realise that Zimbabwe’s crisis won’t disappear by being quiet on it. The current migration crisis in South Africa must jolt Sadc to act on the crisis decisively. The international community should work to capacitate Sadc to act on Zimbabwe before the 2023 elections,” Mutandiri added.
Cape Town-based political commentator Trust Matsilele said Zimbabweans were very much into muted participation in election processes which could be a rebellion directed towards a compromised electoral system.
“It is a no-brainer that elections in Zimbabwe are largely administered by Zanu PF surrogates and a certain population lacks trust in the system which informs the numbers.
“I think citizens should know that outside other unorthodox means, elections remain the only viable way to effect power transfer and regime change which is desperately needed in Zimbabwe as the incumbent regime has reduced most people to paupers,” he said.
He argued that Zimbabweans should be aware that rigging has a threshold and there was the possibility of regime change through the ballot.
Zanu PF political commissar Mike Bimha and party national spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa were not answering their phones yesterday.