ZEC speaks on early elections

HARARE – The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is working towards holding the 2018 polls between June and August although the elections management body was quick to point out that ultimately that decision lies with the President, the Daily News can report.

Zec has waded into the poll-date debate as the officialdom in the ruling Zanu PF party is increasingly getting confident at the prospect of President Robert Mugabe calling for early elections to catch his rivals flat footed.

With the country’s opposition parties — numbering up to 40 — haggling over a mooted grand coalition, it has been said, and not denied, that the country could go for a snap election as early as March next year.

But Zec deputy chair, Emmanuel Magade, told the Daily News yesterday that while the president is the only one who proclaims the election date, they were looking at holding polls between June and August 2018.

“As far as we are concerned, it’s a question of speculation (that there would be early polls). We can’t read the crystal ball and say the elections will be held such and such a day until a proclamation is issued by the president.

Look, my answer to you is that elections will be held between June and August. So once the registration process is complete by the end of the year or early next year, then we will be ready,” said Magade.

“The announcement of the election date is the constitutional prerogative of the State president, taking obviously into consideration the nation’s state of preparedness for example the BVR exercise, the verification of the voters’ roll and the availability of election-related resources. That being the case, any talk at this point in time of elections in January, February, March or whenever is beyond the jurisdiction of Zec. My personal comment is that it is mere speculation and conjecture, which has nothing to do with Zec,” he added.

For the first time, Zimbabwe will use the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise to determine who votes in next year’s elections.

Magade revealed yesterday the commission has taken first delivery of the first batch of BVR kits.

“The first batch of 400 BVR kits arrived two days ago. We expect the rest,

2 600, in a few weeks’ time. The training of trainers started on Monday and we expect it to conclude on Friday (tomorrow). After that we will cascade the training to the provinces, starting next week,” he told the Daily News.

Zec needs $274 million to hold the 2018 elections, which many observers doubt would be available in view of the budgetary constraints facing Treasury.

Mugabe’s administration has, however, never run short of creative ideas to get around its financial quagmire, never mind their toxic effects in future.

To fund the 2018 polls, Treasury is seen engaging in virtual currency printing through the Real Time Gross Settlement system.

Finance and Economic Development minister Patrick Chinamasa has previously admitted to printing money in the form of RTGS to funds its employees’ salary, among other things.

Magade was confident yesterday that government would secure the money in time to allow smooth preparations of the polls.

“I can’t say how much we have raised so far, but we are in the process of mobilising the necessary resources to hold the elections.

“But that said, I can assure you that government — at the end of the day — will avail to us the necessary resources to hold a free, fair and credible election.

“It’s their obligation to do so and I have every reason to believe that they won’t be found wanting,” said Magade.

Zanu PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo, has in the last two months, fuelled speculation that Mugabe was likely to call for an early election, most likely in March 2018.

In his address to the Mashonaland West Provincial Coordinating Committee in July, Chombo hinted that the Zanu PF leader could call for early polls by urging the ruling party supporters and officials to stand ready “for anything”.

“This is July and the president is not forced by anyone to declare elections in June (2018). He can choose any date next year.

“Let’s be ready, expecting that the elections may come in February or March, which means we must be ready. We don’t want to be under pressure and be caught unaware,” Chombo said then.

Only last month, it became apparent that Zanu PF had made considerable progress in putting the building blocks for early 2018 elections, when it held a one-day workshop on voter education and voter registration held at the party’s headquarters.

During the workshop, Chombo again urged the party to be ready for the polls.

“…there is no doubt that the elections are going to take place in the first half of next year. Time is therefore of essence if we are going to put in place mechanisms that will help us win the election,” Chombo was quoted as saying.

Legal and parliamentary experts have said nothing would stop Mugabe from proclaiming an early election if he wants to.

They cited section 144 of the Constitution which says a general election can result from dissolution of Parliament, which Mugabe can exploit should he suppose an early election be politically expedient.

Next year’s elections are so crucial to both Zanu PF and the opposition that analysts are predicting a very close race.

For the first time, Zanu PF and Mugabe are likely to face a united opposition participating as a single bloc.

Mugabe and Zanu PF, despite their serious differences, are already campaigning.

The Zanu PF youth league has since set the party’s campaign machine rolling with the ongoing youth interface rallies attracting bumper crowds for Mugabe, who wants to extend his rule at the helm of government beyond the current 37 years.

In the meantime, there is no consensus on the mooted grand coalition despite talks and signing of pacts by Tsvangirai and seven fringe parties to form an alliance, the MDC Alliance.

Mujuru and other opposition leaders have distanced themselves from the MDC Alliance and are holding out for more in the final coalition whose leader is currently the bone of contention.

Analysts and a large cross-section of Zimbabweans have consistently said a united opposition, contesting as a single bloc in next year’s elections, has a chance of ending Mugabe and Zanu PF’s political dominance.

Magade told the Daily News that Zec was working flat out to have free, fair and credible elections — ruling out the fiasco which marred the Kenyan elections whose presidential result was nullified by its supreme court last week.

The Kenya Supreme Court on Friday declared President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win invalid due to irregularities committed by the election board and ordered a new election within 60 days.

“I did not read the judgment so I am not in a position to comment as to where things went wrong. But what I know is that we will not have a replication of the Kenya scenario here; we won’t. We hold our elections in accordance to the law. The lesson is that we have to be meticulous and scrupulous in observing the electoral laws,” said Magade.

In 2008, Zec was heavily criticised for delaying the release of election results by six weeks — leading to accusations that it had tampered with the ballot to save Mugabe who, for the first time since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — lost an election when he fell to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai, however, failed to win an outright majority of 50 percent plus one vote and was forced into a runoff in which he pulled from days before polling citing massive violence against his supporters.

Mugabe would go on to stage a one-man election in which he declared himself the winner in a move widely condemned by the international community whose disquiet influenced a power sharing agreement that led to the formation of a government of unity in February 2009.- Daily News