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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Zim elections: It's crunch time for voters
    Jason Moyo, mail and Guardian (SA)
    July 26, 2013

    While clearing out a pile of old newspapers recently, Derrick Dube found a copy of the Independent from March 2008. It bore a familiar front-page headline: "Opposition reveals rigging plot".

    There were others in the pile, published on the eve of the March 2008 polls. There was the one about the voters' roll being in "a shambles", and another carrying a charge by the opposition that Zanu-PF was ­blocking voter registration in pro-opposition urban centres.

    "There is nothing new, but we still hope for the best," says Dube (74). He lives in Kwekwe, in the Midlands province, and has voted in every poll since 1980.

    Although the headlines are the same, and frustration remains about the pace of reform, the absence of violence may convince even President Robert Mugabe's foreign critics to accept the poll's outcome. So bad was the last election that the bar for a credible vote has been set low.

    After five years, not much has changed. Days ahead of the July 31 vote, the opposition is returning to similar themes: claims of shadowy plots to rig the poll, criticism of the registrar general's administration of the voters' roll, and warnings that the election will not be legitimate.

    It is a sign of how little work was done by the unity government towards meeting its purpose: to calm tempers enough to institute reforms needed to make sure the coming elections would produce an outcome accepted by all.

    Heading towards voting day, the one big improvement is that there is none of the violence that made Mugabe's re-election a farce in June 2008. As in the first round in March 2008, the opposition has campaigned freely in Mugabe's strongholds.

    The torture camps run by pro-Mugabe militants in the June 2008 run-off have remained closed and Mugabe himself appears to be making a genuine call for peace. And though the short run-up may have raised concerns about a credible poll, it may have played a role in the absence of violence.

    "People are tired of violence. They don't want a repeat of 2008. People simply want a clear result one way or another. They simply want a decisive winner," said analyst Knox Chitiyo.

    There are growing indications that even Western governments may accept the outcome, even if the poll was administratively flawed.

    "I still believe that it is possible for Zim to have a peaceful, credible election," the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, was quoted as saying this week. "Clearly, that's what's needed to help move the country forward - economically, socially and politically. We have expressed concerns about elements of the process so far, but I think we need to be careful not to prejudge it."

    The African Union has said a free poll is possible, and the European Union says it will go by whatever position the Southern African Development Community (SADC) takes - which will likely be positive.

    A new Constitution came with some reforms, but it appears these were not far-reaching enough to convince Mugabe's opponents that a fair poll is possible.

    The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) wanted to postpone the poll to October, saying this would allow more time to register voters and to clean up the voters' roll.

    But the Constitutional Court ruled that elections must be held by July 31. A plea by the government, at the behest of the SADC, to have the vote postponed by two weeks was rejected by the court.

    Over 20000 observers have been accredited for the election, but the government continues to bar observers from the EU and the US, citing sanctions that remain.

    However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission's deputy head, Joyce Kazembe, said five observers from each embassy, including those of Western governments, would still be allowed to observe the poll.

    Kazembe says the number of polling stations has been increased to 9670 from the 9456 used during the referendum, and the 8998 used in the 2008 polls. However, the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network, the country's largest observer group, says more are needed, especially in Harare.

    In the countdown to the vote, the MDC has escalated its charges that the poll is being rigged. The party cites the role of Israeli company Nikuv and the printing of significantly more ballots than the number of registered voters as indications of a plot to steal the vote.

    In a letter to the electoral commission, the MDC said it was "concerned about electoral fraud [by Nikuv] through manipulation of the voters' roll, and the issuing of multiple identity cards to individuals that would then allow them to vote twice". The company denies the charges.

    Opposition figure Dumiso Dabengwa, who was in charge of home affairs when Nikuv got the contract 13 years ago, told the Mail & Guardian last week that Nikuv had been contracted "to specifically upgrade the computers for the purposes of computerising the central registry, birth certificates, passports and national identity documents". They had only had a limited role in elections, he said.

    The chaos in the "special vote" for uniformed forces showed how unprepared election officials were for the polls. Of the 63268 people who were eligible to vote in the early polling, only 37108 voted, according to Kazembe.

    Some polling stations opened for two days but closed without a vote being cast, as the electoral commission was unable to deliver ballots in time. At one polling station, tempers frayed and police officers broke windows in a hall where voting was taking place.

    Some observers took the rare show of public dissent as a sign that, although Mugabe still enjoys the patronage of senior army officers, he may not enjoy unbridled support among the younger rank and file.

    Funding remains a huge worry. The commission has received just half of the $132-million it requested, "but nothing has stopped us from moving," said commission official Bessie Nhandara this week.

    Officials say privately that suppliers were begged to deliver materials before payment is made, but many are reluctant to do business with the electoral commission because there is no guarantee they will be paid.

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