HARARE – The climate of intimidation and violence threatens to render the upcoming election unfree and unfair, a leading civic organisation has said.
In its electoral updates, Kubatana has cited a number of infringements that threaten Zimbabweans expressing their free will in the elections slated for August 23, 2023.
“With Zimbabwe’s election just two weeks away, commentators have already been noting the country’s constrained environment and how it presents difficulties for a genuinely ‘free and fair’ election,” Kubatana said.
“In addition to the increased political violence, issues like limited press freedom, bans on rallies and abuse of the courts also present obstacles to the credibility of this month’s elections.”
The organisation said where the quality of elections decreases “it is not primarily due to abuses on the day, but instead to unfair election processes that happen prior to election day.”
“In short: rigging the election before it is held is a strategy that works, and Zimbabwe is no exception,” the organisation said.
Kubatana said leading resistance voices in Zimbabwe like that of journalists Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition politician Job Sikhala have been muzzled through courts.
“They have received criminal charges and have been denied bail for their exposure of corruption and criticism of government practices,” the organisation said.
“Harsh penalties, including prison sentences, for violations of laws like the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act contribute to self-censorship among journalists. Zimbabweans operate in a context that allows little room for healthy, open discussion and debate.”
It is the long-established climate of political violence that makes it easy for the establishment to ‘rig’ the election.
“The Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded widespread event disruption, harassment, and intimidation efforts targeting opposition groups and leaders in 2022,” the organisation said.
“A recent Afrobarometer survey found that 58 percent of Zimbabweans fear violence during the 2023 elections, up from 43 percent in 2018.
“Attacks on opposition campaigners, journalists and even opposition lawyers lend credence to the fears. In 2020, three opposition youth leaders were arrested when they spoke out about how they were abducted and sexually assaulted after being taken into police custody.
“Earlier this year, Harare based lawyer Kudzai Kadzere was beaten by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), in response to him representing 24 members of the opposition political party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), who had been arrested for allegedly holding an illegal meeting. ”
The organisation said for most Zimbabweans, no matter what happens on election day, the upcoming elections have already been tampered with.
“With examples like these, there are many Zimbabweans who feel that regardless of how well the ballot is conducted on the day, there is a broader environment that negates any declaration of Zimbabwe’s election being ‘free and fair,'” Kubatana said.