Zimbabwe elections: Tensions rise as campaign gets to fever pitch

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa gestures during the launch of his party's election manifesto in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

HARARE – Political tension is rising in Zimbabwe as the country prepares to hold its national elections in two weeks’ time — with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa yesterday accusing the election management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), of being “biased” and “incompetent”.

This came as angry opposition parties and rights groups also warned authorities in interviews with the Daily News that the eagerly-anticipated harmonised elections were now at the risk of losing their credibility altogether, unless Zec acted on all the serious flaws that contesting parties had cited.

It also came as Zec had steadfastly upheld the highly-contested special voting by members of the police force on Thursday, which the opposition claimed was illegal.

Zimbabwe will hold its crunch elections on July 30 — which for the first time in two decades will not feature both ousted former president Robert Mugabe and the late MDC founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his valiant battle against colon cancer at the beginning of the year.

Hot on the heels of the MDC Alliance’s massive demonstration against Zec in Harare on Wednesday — over a raft of demands — the main opposition party was particularly riled by Thursday’s special voting by members of the police force, which took place without political parties getting notification.

This resulted in the Chamisa-led party accusing both Zec and the police of undermining the “credibility” of the polls — charging that the postal vote had been held “clandestinely” and thus, violated sections of the Electoral Act, with some police officers also allegedly being “forced” to vote in front of their superiors at Ross Camp in Bulawayo.

“Zec is not fit 4 (sic) purpose … biased & not independent. Zec is either unwilling or incompetent, or both, to hold a free & fair election. Too many pedestrian mistakes.

“We’re the contemporary embodiment of the values of ‘one man one vote’ being the continuation of what many died for. #Godisinit,” an angry Chamisa posted on micro-blogging platform, Twitter.

On its part, the smaller MDC group led by Thokozani Khupe also claimed that Zec had lost control of the electoral process.

“There are some shadowy forces behind the scenes that are pulling all the strings.

“What Zec should do as a matter of urgency is to accept that the electoral process has been hijacked by these shadowy forces and publicly state that their constitutional responsibility has been usurped,” Khupe’s deputy Obert Gutu told the Daily News.

Former vice president Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP) even called on Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba to resign, in the wake of Thursday’s special vote controversy.

“The only way credibility can be restored into this election is that … Chigumba must resign. If the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, can you explain who is controlling the electoral process then?” NPP spokesperson Jefferson Chitando fumed.

Apart from complaining about not having been notified of Thursday’s special vote, the MDC Alliance is also making stunning claims that it has information that “most” of the police officers had been forced to vote in front of their bosses.

However, the police yesterday dismissed the allegations as false.

“No police officer was forced to vote in front of any officer. The voting process went on very smoothly … the voting process is being done according to the laws of the country, period,” said senior assistant commissioner Erasmus Makodza.

During a meeting with election observers yesterday, Chigumba also said that there was nothing amiss about Thursday’s special vote, and that it was valid.

“Unless we have evidence that someone was intimidated or forced into exercising the postal vote against their will, my preliminary answer would be yes, they will be valid unless there is evidence of electoral malpractice around the practice of that postal vote.

“And I would like to urge and encourage those who are not willing to practice postal vote to simply decline to do so,” Chigumba added.

But opposition groups were still adamant that the apparent contradiction by Zec officials highlighted serious flaws within the system.

This followed Zec provincial officer for Bulawayo, Innocent Ncube, saying on Thursday that the national elections management body was not aware of the voting by police.

“As Zec, we don’t get involved in postal voting because that’s not our duty.

“I was not aware that there was such (a vote) happening, only to be told by (MDC provincial chair Gift) Banda complaining about the process” Ncube said.

Meanwhile, political analysts and rights groups are also warning that the July 30 plebiscite could be heading for a “disaster”, unless Zec revises its conduct of the national elections.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme was of the strong view that the Bulawayo incident was “symptomatic of the rot in our electoral systems”.

“It confirms once more that the pre-poll period is rigged and not credible. It also confirms the putrefaction at Zec and its lack of credibility as an independent body charged with running elections,” Saungweme told the Daily News.

Former civic leader MacDonald Lewanika said Zec’s poor communication on the special vote and the apparent haziness of the procedures for that vote could have been avoided.

“Zec must ensure that all causes for concern which can impact negatively on the electoral process are addressed and dealt with. There is no issue or case that is too trivial when the State is at stake,” Lewanika said.

Human rights campaigner Dewa Mavhinga also said Zec should address all the concerns which had been raised by the opposition.

“It’s key for Zec to restore its credibility and build public confidence that it can and will deliver a transparent, free and fair election,” Mavhinga said.

This year’s elections have generated a lot of interest among both ordinary Zimbabweans and ambitious politicians alike, with many people anticipating a close contest between Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, is seeking a substantive term in the July 30 harmonised elections, in which he will face the youthful Chamisa and 21 other presidential aspirants.

And for the first time in post-independent Zimbabwe there will also be female presidential candidates — four of them — taking on their male counterparts for the right to occupy the most powerful political office in the country after the plebiscite. – Daily News