Concerns over Zimbabwe's 2018 Elections
On 30 May 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, proclaimed the 30th of July 2018 as the date for the 2018 harmonized elections. This will be Zimbabwe’s first harmonized elections without President Robert Mugabe who stepped down under a military assisted transition in November 2017, whose dictatorship had 37 years. In this election proclamation, September 8, 2018 was set for Presidential run-off elections, which will only happen if all presidential contestants fail to garner the 50%+1 vote as outlined in the country’s constitution. This is a historic election, as historic as the 1980 independence elections, as these elections are a significant compass for the country’s transition. These elections are important for Munangagwa to secure his legitimacy following his military assisted ascension to power. It is an important election for the opposition, the MDC Alliance parties, which have rallied behind a young and charismatic 40-year-old lawyer as their presidential candidate following the passing on of Morgan Tsvangirai on 14 February 2018. Whilst Mnangagwa’s rhetoric purports to deliver a credible election, which he clearly understands to be key in unlocking economic growth and the jobs that he promised in his manifesto, his past false promises, acts of genocide, human rights abuses and corruption render his rhetoric empty. Moreover, surrounded by a military that has taken a much active and public role, it remains to be seen how he will circumvent the junta hold around him. The US Embassy in Zimbabwe has already dismissed Mnangagwa as all talk and no action. The US embassy also questions the country’s preparedness for a free and credible election as they believe that the current electoral and political environment fails to meet the basic minimum SADC guidelines on elections, or any other recognised set guidelines on elections. The Italian Embassy in Zimbabwe has urged Mnangagwa to stop economic sloganeering at the expense of implementing actual electoral reforms. In buttress of the above views, the EU is concerned with the electoral body’s legalistic approach at the expense of investing in transparent, credible and uncontestable election framework that builds public trust and confidence. Despite, misgivings outlined above, Mnangagwa enjoys support from Britain, who have, in sign of confidence, given his administration a USD$100m loan for rebooting the private sector.
The opposition political parties in Zimbabwe are concerned with the expanded, more active and public role of the military in Government, Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) and ZANU PF political party structures. It is the same military, who in 2008, led by the current Vice President Chiwenga, denied Morgan Tsvangirai victory and held election results hostage for more than one month, leading to the formation of a negotiated Government of National unity, a mitigation strategy meant to curb further degeneration of the country into a civil catastrophe. Typical of the military nature and culture of influencing the election environment and its outcomes, the opposition alleges that more than 5000 military personnel have been deployed in rural communities as ZANU PF political commissars. These are the same people alleged to be harassing villagers in rural communities, demanding their voter registration slips for auditing. The military has also taken a much stronger role in the administration of the country’s electoral body, the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) and consequently the elections themselves. The militarisation of ZEC has been confirmed by the ZEC Chairperson who cited that more than 15% of ZEC officers are former military personnel. The opposition insists that former and current military officials constitute over 40% of ZEC’s 383 staff personnel. Intriguing is that, the recently appointed Chief Elections Officer, mandated to deliver the 2018 elections is former military personnel who joined ZEC in 2008 at a time he was still serving in the military. ZEC as employer of the Chief Elections Officer has little control over his work and conduct and ZEC has no power to dismiss him without the approval of the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Since the military assisted transition of November 2017, there has been an increase in militarisation of major Government departments through appointment of strategic military personnel to positions of influence. The opposition has also raised concerns on vote buying tendencies exhibited by the Mnangagwa administration. Other than vote buying through manipulating food aid and farming inputs for the poor and desperate villagers, Mnangagwa recently splashed millions on 226 brand new ISUZU twin cabs for traditional leaders, which has been interpreted by many as a vote buying strategy for traditional leaders to influence the voting in rural communities where they enjoy authority, respect and control of villagers. Following this gesture, the President of the Chief’s Council, Fortune Charumbira, in complete disregard of the constitutional obligation on the impartiality and independence of traditional leaders, made a public call for all traditional leaders to support ZANU PF. Traditional leaders have in the past been known to be a key organising structure for ZANU PF, mobilising villagers towards a ZANU PF vote.
There are concerns on lack of ZEC’s transparency in procurement, printing of election ballot papers and their security. The opposition has raised questions on the type of paper and ink to be used which they believe was used to influence the 2013 election outcome. People’s Democratic Party, one of the opposition political parties in the MDC Alliance has taken ZEC to court over allegations of breaching the provisions of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets by failing to procure the printing of electoral material by an open tender. ZANU PF rejected attempts by the opposition to include provisions in the Electoral Act Amendment that enforces transparent procurement and printing of ballot papers. Ballot paper type, quality and corrupted voting ink have been used in other countries to influence election outcomes. The opposition has concerns around the printing and security of the ballot paper, issues ZEC is dragging its feet on yet key in ensuring public confidence and trust. Opposition parties have raised concerns on the new Biometric Voters’ Roll. More than 5.3 million Zimbabweans are registered to vote in the 2018 harmonised elections and 60% of these are between the age of 18-40years, a generation born immediately before and after Zimbabwe’s independence of 1980. The opposition alleges that the 2018 voters roll has been contaminated with data from the contested 2013 voters roll. The opposition has further called for an external audit of the voters roll, to establish its legitimacy and authenticity citing irregularities identified through the voter inspection programme of 19-29 May 2018. The opposition cited an example of Mt Darwin Constituency where they identified two hundred, 109yr olds with the same ID cards on the voters roll. The European Union has offered to fund the external audit as public confidence measure, an offer which ZEC is not keen on accepting. Of major concern is that, Mnangagwa has proclaimed the date for elections without a ready voters roll. It is 11 days before the election nomination court sits, yet, in direct breach of the section 67 of the constitution, the voters roll has not been availed to opposition political parties in its analyzable and searchable form. ZEC has falsely claimed to have posted a voters roll link on its website. Zimbabwe’s Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process was polling station based, immediately allocating registrants of their voting station. Albeit this was so, ZEC has unilaterally increased polling stations by more than 1500 stations, an issue which has riled the opposition as they question the purpose and function of these extra stations. As if this is not enough, Zimbabwe in the Diaspora cannot vote in this election and attempts to get a court order have been thrown out. This is because section 23 of the Electoral Act insists that the persons must be resident in a constituency before they can be registered on a voters roll in that constituency. This is in contravention of the rights of all Zimbabweans to vote as espoused in our constitution. Clearly, some provisions in the Electoral Act are still unaligned to the constitution, thus rendering them illegal.
As a result of these pre-election frustrations, the Opposition organized a peaceful march on 5 June 2018 in Harare in protest over an unfair electoral playing field. ZANU PF youths organised a counter march in Harare at the same time in an effort to thwart the opposition march. Zimbabwe remains fragile and unstable and failure to a deliver a free and fair election can prolong Zimbabwe’s quest for stability and growth towards a democracy.