If Zimbabwe were any other country, President Robert Mugabe, would be out of office after elections next week on March 29.
The economy is in shambles with inflation at more than 100 000 percent and rising, unemployment is above 80 percent while food, fuel and foreign currency shortages have become endemic.
Social services have all but collapsed and more than half the country’s
estimated 13 million population lives in grinding poverty. No wonder why the International Monetary Fund has said the southern African
country has the fastest shrinking economy outside the war zone.
But Mugabe, whom analysts blame for not only ruining one of Africa’s most promising economies, but also ruled his country with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980, looks set to win a sixth term successive in office.
He could win, political analysts and the opposition fear, not because he is popular with the electorate, but because of a combination voter intimidation, violence against his opponents and outright ballot rigging.
Already democracy campaigners and the opposition have unmasked a Litany of systematic electoral irregularities, which they say are designed to result in a pre-determined outcome.
University of Zimbabwe constitutional law lecturer, Lovemore Madhuku says it is difficult for the opposition to unseat Mugabe in the election because of the flawed electoral field, which heavily favours the ruling party.
The despot, says Madhuku has already manipulated the voters’ roll, constituency boundaries and the government-appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the body that runs elections.
“It will be difficult for them to win,” says Madhuku, who is also chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) an organisation that is campaigning for a new constitution for Zimbabwe. “The electoral climate will not result in a free and fair election and he (Mugabe) is in charge of the elections. The electoral laws, processes are meant to bring one pre-determined outcome – a Zanu – PF victory.”
Mugabe will be up against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the mainstream faction of the divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), former minister, Simba Makoni and little-known Langton Towungana, another independent.
The electoral theft, says Nelson Chamisa, spokesman of the main MDC faction started with the voter registration exercise last year when civil servants conducting the exercise systematically turned away youths, generally known to be pro-opposition were denied the right to register.
The government adds Chamisa ensured that there were few voter registration centres in opposition strongholds in urban areas, thus making it difficult for prospective voters to register.
To the contrary, registration centres were more in rural areas, which generally vote for ruling party.
“Then came the delimitation process under which Mugabe’s appointees drastically slashed the number of constituencies in towns and Matabeleland region where they know we are strong,” Chamisa notes
“It is made more sinister because while cutting constituencies and drawing up boundaries in such a way that our support is diluted, the delimitation process increases the number of constituencies in Zanu –PF rural power bases.”
Ingenious schemes of gerrymander
Of Zimbabwe’s estimated 5, 9 million voters, about three quarters live in rural areas. Soon after the presentation of the delimitation report late January, both factions of the MDC protested at what they said was clear government gerrymandering.
The report redrew the country into 210 Lower House constituencies, up from 120 and 90 elective senatorial seats up from 60. Of the 90 new Lower House constituencies, a massive 62 were drawn up in Zanu –PF’s rural strongholds with only 28 going to urban centres where the opposition draws most of its support.
The opposition, European Union and the US have rejected the results of the 2000, 2002 and 2005 elections, citing massive electoral theft by Mugabe’s ruling party.
Charging that the Delimitation Commission used a “fraudulent” voters’ roll, Ian Makone, elections director in the Tsvangirai-led camp says it is strange that Bulawayo, the second largest city in which the opposition holds all the eight Lower House seats, now has only 13 yet largely rural Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Masvingo, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central provinces now have 23, 22, 26, 26, and 18 respectively.
“Like I said when the delimitation report was issued,” Makone notes, “our elections directorate has established that of the 210 constituencies in the House of Assembly, 143 are rural constituencies while just 67 are urban and peri-urban constituencies. So technically speaking Zanu – PF already has the crucial two-thirds majority in the Lower House before a single vote is cast.”
After the delimitation process, he continues, urban constituencies in Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo were merged with portions of rural areas in a way to dilute the opposition’s dominance.
Yet the alleged bias is not only limited to constituency gerrymandering, but also the right to hold political meetings and rallies and access to the public media in a country where the government still has strong influence in the press.
While the opposition has staged some campaign rallies in other parts of the country, police this week, rejected an application by the MDC to hold meetings in Harare and Chitungwiza, claiming that Zanu –PF had already booked the venues.
Largely, the local media industry remains under the government’s tight grip. There are only two national dailies, and three weeklies, one television station and four radio channels, all of which are government-controlled. The public media is generally accused of being biased against opposing views and as such the opposition is left scrambling for coverage in three privately-owned weeklies which have limited circulation.
“We thought that the inter-party dialogue we are having with Zanu –PF would even the electoral playing field,” Chamisa says. “But we were wrong. — Conditions for a free and fair election have not been met. That is why we say any result that comes out of this election would be
Voters’ roll with names of the dead
This week, the opposition and civic groups unearthed massive irregularities in the voters’ roll which still lists long deceased people as registered voters.
The voter lists for at least 27 of 70 constituencies civic groups have examinedshow discrepancies between what the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has declared as the number of voters and those on the roll, reflecting variations as high as 31 percent.
For instance, Goromonzi South constituency in the ruling party’s stronghold Mashonaland East province has 19 422 registered voters yet ZEC declared that 28086 were registered.
Other affected constituencies include Bulawayo Central, Gokwe-Nembudziya, Chikomba East, Bubi and Chipinge East.
In Harare’s Mount Pleasant constituency, a former minister who served in
colonial times, Desmond William Lardner Burke who was born in 1908 and died in South Africa a few years ago is listed as a registered voter.
The electoral commission’s position
The sorry state of the voters’ roll is now the subject of a court case in which the MDC wants the ZEC to provide them with electronic copies of the lists. They also want to be furnished with information on the number of ballot papers printed for next week’s polls.
Paul Siwela, president of the Federal Democratic Union (FDU) thinks that the electorate has lost confidence in the electoral process because of electoral fraud.
“The electoral process,” he notes, “cannot deliver a new dispensation as long as the process is controlled by Zanu –PF’s visible and invisible agents.”
He was particularly unhappy about the fact that an estimated three million potential Zimbabweans have been driven into exile because of the prevailing economic crisis and political persecution at the hands of government agents.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network has also raised concerns at the small number of polling stations in the opposition’s urban strongholds, saying this could be used as a ploy to disenfranchise eligible voters who would have no chance to vote at the limited number of polling centres.
Former colonial master, Britain and the United States have also joined in the chorus casting aspersions over the possibility of a free and fair poll.
The two countries, as well as the European Union fear that the conditions do not guarantee a free and fair election. As if to compound their fears, President Mugabe has only invited observers from friendly countries and refused to invite westerners claiming the latter are biased against him. Democracy activists fear that in the absence of independent-minded European and American observers, Mugabe could use that cover to silently rig the election in his favour.
Another factor that could dash hopes of a free and fair poll, according to Human Rights Watch is politically motivated violence.
In a report released in Johannesburg, South Africa, the watchdog said President Robert Mugabe’s government had in the run-up to poll engaged in widespread intimidation of the opposition to render the election result flawed.
“Despite some improvements on paper to the election regulations, Zimbabweans aren’t free to vote for the candidates of their choice,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“While there are four candidates running for president and many political
parties involved, the election process itself is skewed,” said Gagnon.
On Tuesday, this week the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said cases of politically motivated violence shot up last January with 300 cases having been recorded in that month alone.