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2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles
ZEC the weakest link
March 20, 2008
View article on the Zimbabwe Independent website
Independent said two weeks ago the election process was already
so seriously flawed that there was little prospect of a free and
fair outcome. Today that is undeniable. On Monday a Statutory Instrument
was gazetted which reversed amendments made to the Electoral
Act in January. Those changes were the product of South African-mediated
inter-party talks. Under the Presidential
Powers (Temporary Measures) (Amendment of Electoral Act) (No
2) Regulations, 2008 "police officers on duty" are now
restored to the list of persons who may be present in a polling
station to assist illiterate or incapacitated voters. They had been
removed from the list by the recent much-trumpeted Electoral
Laws Amendment Act.
The amendment to the Electoral Act in January has been held aloft
by Zanu PF as emblematic of its commitment to electoral reforms
as required by the 2004 Sadc guidelines and the inter-party agreement.
Those reforms were designed to bring Zimbabwe into conformity with
the Sadc norms by establishing a national consensus on electoral
architecture and procedures. President Mugabe has driven a coach
and horses through those reforms by unilaterally declaring the election
date on March 29 and now restoring the role of the police in "assisting"
infirm voters by way of an edict.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has proved supine in safeguarding
its independence. It has allowed the government to arrogate to itself
the right to accredit observers and foreign journalists for the
election.It has made only belated attempts to secure access for
opposition parties to the public media. And it has proved unable
to comment on statements made by service chiefs which appear to
intimidate the electorate. Justice George Chiweshe who was boasting
of the ZEC's independence only a few weeks ago now says it is not
within the electoral supervisory body's jurisdiction to comment
on such statements.
"It will not do things which are not within its mandate,"
he said this week.
The prisons and armed forces chiefs have both said they will not
acknowledge opposition leaders if they win the poll. Police Commissioner-General
Augustine Chihuri said
last week the force would not allow British and American "puppets"
to rule Zimbabwe. This is the language of the ruling party. Now,
the same police force whose chief will determine which candidates
can be classed as puppets is to gain admission to polling booths
to assist voters who need help in casting their ballots.
This makes a mockery of the inter-party agreement on electoral reform
and demonstrates the insincerity of the ruling party which has portrayed
its agreement to the amended Act, together with changes to POSA
as indicative of its willingness to establish a national consensus.
President Thabo Mbeki who has been active in this project will now
be able to see the limitations of his diplomacy. But regional observers
are already expressing their determination to approve the electoral
process despite the all-too-visible gaping holes. Sadc mission head
José Marcus Barrica of Angola has said he was impressed by
his initial assessment of the political environment. That no doubt
includes exclusion of opposition views from the public media, exclusion
of observers and journalists unwilling to sanitise a rigged poll,
and threats by service chiefs which will have a chilling effect
on the electorate. No doubt Zimbabwe's experience compares favourably
with Angola. But that is an invidious benchmark.
Then there is the abuse of public resources and undisguised inducements
that give the ruling party a clear advantage. Not a day passes without
a presidential promise or gift of some sort. What is clearly "treating"
under the law is an established custom in Zimbabwe at election time.
As Mugabe's predicament becomes more perilous with each day of economic
decline, so we are likely to see more explicit attempts at coercion.
A partisan media, suborned service chiefs, a police force unwilling
to exercise an even hand, and an electoral regulatory body completely
at sea in this toxic political climate, all point to an outcome
that is anything but free or fair. The whole point of the Sadc intervention
that commenced last March was to avoid a disputed poll and further
uncertainty that made Zimbabwe a liability in the region. Instead
it looks as if they will get more of the same.
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