Zimbabwe election watch: Issue 16


Issue 16: 28 January 2008

The announcement by President Mugabe that the elections will be held on March 29 has received widespread condemnation. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the date is a blow to current mediation efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki to end the country's economic and political turmoil.

Eddie Cross, an economic adviser to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, writes in his weekly letter that the February 8 nomination date - which should in fact be during March - was selected very carefully by the regime and is a cunning part of the overall strategy worked out 10 months ago. The early nomination date makes it almost impossible for the opposition to get candidates registered for the poll.

Cross continues: "What Zanu PF did when confronted in March 2007 with the (then) demand by South Africa that they hold the elections on schedule in March 2008, and that they hold them under "free and fair" conditions, was that they convened the 'Joint Operations Command'. JOC evolved a plan they have since been implementing and, like all of their plans, it had one central objective: how to hold onto power at all costs.

1. First they resolved to smash the organisational structures of the MDC... (During March 2007, the MDC leadership was beaten and brutalised en route to the Save Zimbabwe prayer meeting and subsequently thousands of MDC activists have been driven out of the country. MDC structures in many parts of the country have been wiped out and the party headquarters have been smashed twice with the loss of all records and millions of dollars of damage).

2. Then Zanu PF agreed to go along with the demands of President Mbeki and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), but in the conviction that they could manipulate this process and avoid dismantling the system they had built up over the past decade which had enabled them to determine, in advance, whatever result they thought they needed from the election itself.

3. Then finally, they (resolved) to take measures to reduce the urban vote and bring the urban population to heel in the same way they had built up control systems in the rural areas..."

Writing for the Cape Times (SA), journalist Peter Fabricius says: "For Zimbabwe to hold an election that meets Mbeki's test of universal acceptability, a new constitution is necessary. It would contain a proper bill of rights and an independent media commission; would take the vital voter registration process out of the hands of officials answerable only to Mugabe and generally diminish the extraordinary executive powers he has given himself, which would allow him to control and possibly manipulate the elections. Postponing the election is also critical so that the necessary reforms can take place. The MDC has been asking for the elections to take place in June. It will take much longer than that even to restore politics to something like normality. But those extra three months would at least make a difference... "

The two factions of the MDC, which have agreed to reunite and back a single election candidate, have called for the elections to be postponed until the introduction of a new constitution. They also want a new and independent electoral commission and voters' roll, and the redrawing of the disputed electoral boundaries, which blatantly favour the ruling party.

The Zimbabwe Standard comments: "By the calculations of most neutral observers, preparations for the harmonised elections are so behind schedule it is unrealistic - and undemocratic - for them to go ahead in March... Only Zanu PF could benefit from a March election. The party can move swiftly into action once the electoral procedures are switched into motion... "

The Times (UK) notes that "one of Mugabe's tricks has been to manipulate the voters' roll to pour thousands of ruling party workers into opposition strongholds. His regime also retains control of television and radio, and an "independent"electoral commission is packed with Zanu PF supporters."

Political analyst John Makumbe says "it has become very clear that the ruining Zanu PF party does not intend to hold free and fair elections come March.. a dictator cannot be removed from political office through legitimately democratic means."

The stories covered in this issue begin with MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai being taken from his home by police in the early hours of 23 January and questioned about a 'freedom march' planned for later that day. This comes just 10 months after he was severely assaulted and seriously injured by police en route to a Save Zimbabwe prayer meeting.

During the MDC's peaceful 'freedom march', scores of opposition supporters were teargassed and beaten up by police, whose original banning of the march had been overruled by a local magistrate. Two days later, the leader of Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe was arrested and interrogated by Harare police. A covert campaign of night-time intimidation in poor ghettos of Bulawayo followed a weekend street demonstration by pressure group Ibhetshu Likazulu.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a domestic election-monitoring and observation group in Zimbabwe, has expressed concern with the current social and political environment as it relates to the forthcoming elections.

The amendments to three highly contentious acts were rushed through Parliament without any meaningful debate on the contentious provisions of the enabling bills.

The opposition says new constituencies have been demarcated in a way that favours Zanu PF. The demarcation is also criticised for being based on a flawed voters' roll, which has thousands of ghost voters, some of them long since deceased or who have moved. Copies of the delimitation report have not been made available to legislators, journalists or voters.

Spokesman Gabriel Chaibva (MDC Mutambara) says what they have seen indicates the electoral commission has failed to adhere to the terms of last year's 18th constitutional amendment which authorised the redistricting.

Zimbabwe's Media and Information Commission (MIC) is insisting that Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the banned Daily News and Daily New on Sunday, re-submit their application for an operating licence. This means that there is no way in which the newspapers will get back their licences before the elections.

Zanu PF continues to insist on redistributing food aid from donors and to deny the provision of desperately needed farming equipment to opposition supporters.