Are political games at play?
by Obert Gutu
SECTION 239 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe mandates the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) with, inter alia, the duty to prepare for, conduct and supervise elections to the office of President and to Parliament and also elections to provincial and metropolitan councils and the governing bodies of local authorities. In addition, ZEC is also mandated to ensure that these elections and referendums are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law.
In less than twelve months from today, Zimbabwe will be holding the 2018 harmonised elections. The million-dollar question is: Is ZEC prepared and capable of conducting a free and fair election that will pass the test of credibility, an election that will be largely free from contestation? Developments presently obtaining on the ground points to a situation whereby ZEC is thoroughly ill-prepared, under-capacitated and thus, incapable of satisfactorily discharging its constitutional mandate.
The on-going BVR exercise has, so far, been nothing short of shambolic. Although ZEC has announced to the nation that it now has got 3,000 BVR kits that are sufficient to register 7 million voters in three months’ time, the actual situation on the ground proves otherwise. To date, ZEC has only managed to register about 40,000 people countrywide and reports trickling in from all over the country, speak to a situation in which the BVR process is painstackingly slow and cumbersome.
There are instances where prospective voters have each taken no less than two hours just to have the paperwork and the computer formalities finalised to have one voter registered. Most of the officials who are operating the BVR machines, especially at Town House in Harare and at the Remembrance Drive district offices in Mbare as well as in Mt, Pleasant, appear to be computer illiterate because they seem to be struggling to operate the BVR kits.
An independent observer might therefore, rightly conclude that its either these ZEC officials are under specific instructions to be slow and inefficient or, at the very least, ZEC did not give these officials adequate and comprehensive training to operate the BVR kits. As it is, there is no sense of excitement that has been generated by the on-going BVR exercise.
Whether by commission or omission, ZEC has somehow failed to undertake a thorough and concerted advertising and awareness programme to explain to Zimbabweans that every eligible person has to register to vote on the new BVR system because the old voters’ roll will no longer be in use for the 2018 elections. It is only non-governmental organisations such as the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and others who have taken it upon themselves to launch an aggressive awareness campaign, particularly in the electronic media.
ZEC itself is conspicuous by its apparent silence and lack of enthusiasm to excite the Zimbabwean population to go out and register as voters. Knowing the Zanu PF regime’s well – documented penchant for rigging electoral processes, some of us in the opposition are already smelling a rat to the effect that there are political games at play.
At several BVR centres in cities and towns such as Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kadoma and Mutare, ZEC officials turn up very late (around 13.00 hours), to open the centres for the public to come and register. In addition, some essential paperwork such as the form VR9 are almost invariably in short supply thus making it extremely difficult for people to register as voters. This was the situation at a BVR centre at Seke NO.2 Primary School in Chitungwiza South constituency a few days ago.
There is little doubt that ZEC is under some kind of instruction from shadowy forces at Munhumutapa Building, Chaminuka Building and KGVI Barracks to make sure that the BVR exercise is made very user-unfriendly and cumbersome, particularly in urban areas that are perceived to be opposition strongholds.
ZEC chairperson, Rita Makarau, with respect, has been most uninspiring in projecting the image of someone who is in control and in charge of running an efficient and transparent BVR exercise. In most, if not all her public announcements on the BVR exercise, she is sounding apologetic and somehow unsure of what, exactly, is taking place around her.
Things were not made any better when Rita Makarau recently knelt before President Robert Mugabe at State House when ZEC had gone to register the First Family and some other high – ranking government officials. That mere act of kneeling before President Mugabe, who himself is a political player and an aspiring Zanu PF Presidential candidate for the 2018 elections, was a public relations disaster for Makarau. She portrayed herself as someone who is completely subservient to Mugabe. As the ZEC chairperson, this was the last thing that Rita Makarau should have done.
Reports coming from rural areas about the BVR exercise are frightening to say the least. In areas such as Gokwe-Kabuyuni, traditional leaders have had their stamps confiscated by local Zanu PF officials to make sure that they don’t prepare and sign any proof of residence documents for known and suspected opposition supporters. ZEC has failed to stamp its constitutional authority because they are coming across as if they are subservient to the government of the day instead of exuding an air of impartiality and independence at all times.
Rita Makarau’s public pronouncements are carefully tailored and structured to make sure that she sounds politically correct to the ruling establishment. She is someone who is clearly not prepared to ruffle feathers amongst the ruling elite by fearlessly and consistently stamping her authority and independence. God knows why Rita Makaru always sounds so timid and afraid! May be she knows something that some of us don’t know.
The issue of the servers that will store the BVR data is another sticky point. As it is, there is a lot of vagueness and ambiguity regarding how, exactly, and also where, these servers were acquired from. When we enquired about the location of these servers, we were advised that they were being kept at the ZEC Head Office at Mahachi Quantum Building in Harare but then, our ICT experts have not been given access to these servers to enable them to inspect the same and make sure that they are safe and sound such that they can’t be manipulated to rig next year’s elections.
Is Rita Makarau and the organisation that she heads, ZEC, really in charge of this whole BVR exercise? Careful scrutiny of the situation on the ground points to a very scary scenario whereby there appears to be a Big Brother somewhere who is intricately controlling and manipulating ZEC from behind the scenes.
As the country’s largest and most popular political party, the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai will continue to call upon Zimbabweans to turn out in their millions and register to vote regardless of the various hurdles that have been put in place by ZEC and its political masters. It is a fact that dictatorships the world over, subsist on voter apathy. The Zanu PF regime is determined to have as few people as possible to register to vote, particularly in the densely populated urban settlements.
Our ICT experts, together with us the politicians, are working round the clock to ensure that the 2018 elections are not stolen as was the case in 2013. As we say in the Shona language : tamba tamba chidembo muswe takabata’ . We will never, ever allow ZEC and their Zanu PF surrogates to once again steal the people’s vote in 2018.
The people of Zimbabwe cannot wait to exercise their right to vote in a free and fair election. In a free and fair election, Zanu PF will suffer a crushing and humiliating electoral defeat next year. The national economy is on a tailspin thanks to decades of Zanu PF misrule, insipid and rampant corruption as well as sheer incompetence and ineptitude. We are about to cross the Rubicon and indeed, only a massively rigged, unfree and unfair election will give rise to a Zanu PF victory in 2018.
This paper was presented by Obert Chaurura Gutu, MDC –T national spokesperson, at a SAPES TRUST special policy dialogue forum in Harare on Thursday, October 12, 2017