HARARE – The ruling Zanu PF party is already manipulating the environment ahead of next year’s elections by buying the support of traditional chiefs and intimidating registrants through claims that their vote will be known under the new biometric voter registration (BVR) system, analysts have said.
Zanu PF, which has been in power since the country got independence in 1980, has for long been accused of rigging elections using various tactics, among them violence.
This comes after the president of the Chief’s Council, Fortune Charumbira, recently openly endorsed the ruling Zanu PF party, whose government had promised to buy brand new cars for traditional leaders.
Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, said Zanu PF has always wooed traditional leaders as a strategy to win their support.
“This is not new. Some chiefs have been notorious of being easily bought by Zanu PF. Elections are not about poll days and announcement of results. They include three periods pre-polling period, polling dates and post-election period,” he said.
“Most rigging actually happens in the pre-poll period where the infrastructure for rigging is installed and effected through skewed voted registration, intimidation, designation of polling stations, preparing of voters’ roll, abuse of State resources for campaigns etc.
“This is a critical period where elections are rigged. Based on what is happening now the opposition needs to up their game and plug the loopholes for rigging otherwise the elections results are obvious,” political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said.
Previous elections have been marred by violence and rigging allegations, which the opposition claim can only be avoided through the implementation of electoral reforms.
As an initiative to push for electoral reforms, last year, the MDC youths held a demonstration which ended in running battles between the law enforcement agents and the protestors as the police were trying to thwart the protest.
During the protests, scores of people were arrested, while police and a ZBC motor vehicle was burnt.
However, as the country hurtles towards the next elections, campaigners for electoral reforms seem to be running out of time, as Zanu PF officials have openly refused to implement the reforms, claiming that the ruling party cannot reform itself out of power.
Another political analyst, Rashweat Mukundu, said there is doubt that next year’s elections will be free and fair owing to the uneven playfield and environment.
“I doubt that 2018 elections will be free and fair on the basis of the levels of intimidation and command voter registration in rural areas.
“A combination of the new BVR technology, partisan role of traditional leaders, threats and violence means that Zanu PF has an upper hand as people will likely choose peace and survival over free expression,” he said.
“The contesting parties must document cases of harassment and challenge these in the courts. Within the registration booths it is (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) Zec’s responsibility to make sure that peace prevails and that people have confidence to register,” he said.
On the other hand, Shakespeare Hamauswa, also a political analyst, said Zanu PF’s tactics to win elections are well known and documented, since the coming in of a serious opposition.
“The question is what the opposition political parties are doing to counter such rigging tactics. This means the legal options will not work, but political responses,” he said.
Recently, the MDC, which is the biggest opposition party in the country, came out criticising traditional leaders for playing a role in the country’s political system, which it argued is against the Constitution.
“Section 280 (2) (a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe specifically provides that traditional leaders must not be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics.
“They must not further the interests of any political party or cause or violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person. In this respect, therefore, recent remarks made by Charumbira, cannot go unchallenged.
“At the recently ended Chiefs’ Council conference that was held in Bulawayo, Charumbira is quoted as having openly called upon chiefs to campaign for Zanu PF in the forthcoming general elections. Sadly, this public pronouncement by chief Charumbira is a blatant and naked violation of Section 280 of the supreme law of the land.
“As a Parliamentarian who sits in the Senate, chief Charumbira should be well — versed with the basic tenets of the supreme law of the land, particularly as it relates to the institution of traditional leaders,” MDC said.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a civic rights group, also expressed concern over Charumbira’s remarks.
“Such statements by a public servant are not only reckless but dangerous but have far reaching implications.
“Charumbira’s statements interfere with the basic freedom of all traditional leaders and community members to exercise their right to support candidates of their choice without fear of reprisals,” it said.
“It goes without saying that once traditional leaders dabble in party politics and openly declare their support to one political party they will not be able to discharge their traditional roles and duties impartially. The Constitution also enjoins traditional leaders to remain apolitical and impartial,” ZLHR said. – Daily News