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Law Amendments and Zengeza by-election
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
from Weekly Media Update 2004-12
Monday March 22nd - Sunday March 28th 2004
reluctance to democratize the electoral process, as demanded by
the political opposition and civic society, was graphically illustrated
by the news this week of its intention to introduce amendments to
the Electoral Act that would further erode the democratic process.
In its report,
The Herald (22/3) failed to examine the serious consequences the
amendments would have on the conduct of the 2005 Parliamentary elections.
This was all the more alarming because the changes would give ZANU
PF even greater freedom to control the electoral process via the
Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) and the Registrar-General's
office. The proposals include giving the ESC total control over
voter education, banning foreign funding for voter education organizations
except if it is channelled through the ESC, limiting postal votes
to diplomatic staff posted outside Zimbabwe and empowering the RG's
office to use its discretion to change names and addresses on the
voters' roll without prior notice. This development emerged amid
intense debate over whether the MDC should participate in next year's
elections in the presently biased electoral environment that heavily
favours the ruling party.
In fact, the
defects of this electoral process were demonstrated by the violence
and other anomalies that characterised the Zengeza by-election.
But rather than condemn the amendments, the government media underlined
their complicity in the erosion of Zimbabwe's democratic space by
The Herald (23/3)
falsely claimed that the Electoral Act Amendments were part of "an
ongoing process that will make next year's general elections as
transparent as possible", and "create a level political playing
field". While ZBC simply censored news of the proposals, the private
media highlighted their grim ramifications. They also exposed the
fact that they represented a rehash of the General Laws Amendment
Bill, dismissed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, but which
government reincarnated on the eve of the 2002 presidential poll
through a Presidential decree (Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa (22/03),
The Daily Mirror (23/3), The Financial Gazette (25/3) and The Standard
media also viewed the amendments as a government stunt to hoodwink
the international community into believing that it was restoring
democracy ahead of next year's elections (The Financial Gazette
and The Standard).
In fact, MDC
leader Morgan Tsvangirai, lawyer Arnold Tsunga and the SADC Electoral
Institute wondered about government's motives in wanting to monopolise
the electoral process at a time when civic society was expecting
government to make "positive developments" to the law (The Daily
Mirror, 23/3, Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa, 24/3).
on SW Radio Africa that government was "taking another step in the
wrong direction" because the changes ignored the MDC's demands for
elections to be held in a "genuinely free and fair" atmosphere.
the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace Munyaradzi Chaumba
and The Zimbabwe Election Support Network executive director, Reginald
Matchaba-Hove, also castigated the amendments in The Daily Mirror.
government media remained partisan, choosing to chide the MDC instead
over its threats to boycott the 2005 election if the electoral landscape
continued to entrench ZANU PF hegemony.
The Herald (22/3) quoted ZANU-PF national commissar Elliot Manyika
dismissing MDC's election boycott threats as inconsequential. Said
Manyika: "Let them boycott the election and Zanu PF will walk into
Parliament and that would be the end of the MDC".
in the same paper unquestioningly magnified this government line
of thinking when it alleged that the MDC's threats were driven by
"fear of defeat". The paper claimed it was actually "honourable"
for the MDC to boycott the elections as it would "go down into oblivion
with some honour and leave its adherents clutching to the fantasy
that it was never defeated".
vote-buying and violence in Zengeza exposed by the private media,
vindicated the MDC's calls for a reformed legal framework. By contrast,
the government media tried to downplay the violence by carrying
vague and unattributed reports of "skirmishes" between party supporters.
This attempt to suffocate the fact that ZANU-PF was again engaged
in a vicious campaign in its pursuit of power was eloquently demonstrated
by The Herald (24/3).
The paper tried
to paint a picture of normalcy in Zengeza by claiming that "campaigns
in the constituency have been generally peaceful despite a violent
start and sporadic incidents of violence..."
ZBC was similarly
unforthcoming. It merely relied on the ESC's updates. Interestingly,
seven of the 35 stories ZBC carried on the election were about the
ESC denying the existence of such violence. However, in the instances
that the electoral body acknowledged the violence (five stories),
the public broadcaster only presented it as an afterthought, including
masking the perpetrators (Power FM, 26/3, 8pm; 27/3, 1pm; 28/3,
1pm, and ZTV, 27/03, 6pm and 8pm).
Tribune (26/3), which visited the constituency exposed the government's
blatant misrepresentation of the reality.
well-sourced article, Violence mars Zengeza poll, revealed
that the situation in Zengeza was worsening. Although Manyika denied
that his party was to blame, the paper quoted several members of
the public and the MDC candidate, James Makore, implicating ZANU-PF
supporters for causing violence. Other private media corroborated
SW radio, for
example, carried nine stories on the Zengeza violence, eight of
which attributed it to ZANU PF, while the victims were all MDC supporters.
The remaining incident was unattributed.
Apart from covering
every ZANU PF "star rally" in Zengeza and almost always quoting
lengthy ruling party officials' speeches, the government media did
not question ZANU PF's unethical attempts to win votes ahead of
for example, did not query the vote-buying gimmick of ZANU PF officials
when they publicly enticed the Zengeza electorate to vote for their
party by promising them facilities such as "a freezit-making business"
(Power FM 22/3); a free health service facility (The Herald 22/3,
Power FM 24/3, 1pm and 8pm); and "scholarships" (Power FM 24/3,
1pm and 8pm). But the private media were categorical in exposing
electoral malpractice, which is actually an offence even under the
current defective electoral laws.
In fact, any
pretence that such promises were genuine and really meant to empower
Zengeza residents was exposed by The Standard's revelations that
the "free clinic" opened by the authorities would only cater for
those recommended by ZANU PF officials.
(28/3) also cited a ZESN report alleging that ZANU PF candidate
Christopher Chigumba was offering $10,000 to people he visited during
his door-to-door campaign. Similar allegations were made by SW Radio
If the government
media were not suppressing ZANU PF's undemocratic practice, then
they were campaigning for the ZANU PF candidate at the expense of
this. Out of the 35 stories that TV, Radio Zimbabwe and Power FM
carried on the election, 13 (37%) were on ZANU PF's campaign while
the remaining 22 reports or 63% were on the activities of the ESC.
None was on the campaign activities of opposition candidates.
conduct was certainly in breach of the Broadcasting Services Act
(BSA), which stipulates that during elections, the broadcaster "shall
give reasonable and equal opportunities for the broadcasting of
election matter to all parties contesting the election."
7 provided the opposition parties such as the MDC and ZANU Ndonga
with the platform to campaign in two of its four poll stories (23
& 25/3). The rest sought independent opinion from the Zimbabwe
Integrated Party (ZIP) leader, Prof. Heneri Dzinotyiwei, on the
MDC and ZANU PF's chances of clinching the Zengeza constituency.
media's relentlessly partisan coverage of the polls continued to
find vent in its glossing over of the anomalies and violence on
the voting days themselves.
ZTV (28/3) and The Herald (29/3) tried to mask the identity of an
MDC supporter who was shot dead by suspected ZANU PF activists at
Makore' s home. They also suffocated the circumstances leading to
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