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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Zim voters’ roll plainly shaped to dislodge MDC
    Phillip de Wet, Mail and Guardian (SA)
    August 01, 2013

    Any voters officially reported in favour of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe will be a victory over the odds heavily and systematically stacked against it, even if it suffers a heavy defeat.

    Despite the six years of negotiation mediated in part by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the MDC went into this week’s elections in conditions that in many respects, where little different from those in 2008.

    By 2010, Zimbabwe’s political parties, including Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF had agreed to a road map to new elections that would see major changes to administrative and media structures, to laws and policies, and to the way the police and army operate. By this week many of the most important changes had not been met. Those include:

    • The appointment of provincial governors and Cabinet ministers by the opposition;
    • Holding security services to a requirement to be politically neutral;
    • Changes to the oversight structures for state broadcasting; and
    • Changes to laws preventing free assembly and speech.

    In negotiations around the implementation of that roadmap, Mugabe won every notable battle of that roadmap, leaving reform stalled. That, in turn, left Zanu-PF hardliners (or individuals close to Mugabe) in charge of everything from the state media to the electoral body responsible for running the elections.

    It also left security officials free to, if not directly threaten a bloody coup should opposition Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai win the elections, at least make on-the-record statement to the effect that he was a “psychiatric patient,” “confused”, and generally unfit to either command or lead.

    The lack of those reforms was the basis on which both opposition parties and SADC rejected Zanu-PF’s claim that the country was ready to host free and fair vote. This week, however, SADC commended the election with little caution its language.

    Still in place this week were laws that have been used to limit what journalists could report and to prevent political gatherings. And the commanders, officers and administrators who have declared their undying loyalty to Zanu-PF and Mugabe personally were still holding key positions.

    As early results started trickling in on Thursday, it became clear that the major flaw in the elections, which could be the basis for later legal challenges and allegations of gross manipulation, lay in the voters’ roll.

    By insisting on rushed elections, despite an earlier agreement that the date would be negotiated to prevent a repeat of the 2008 election, where the date was also decided unilaterally Mugabe engineered a situation that would favour his party, or at least provide a cover of chaos under which possible vote rigging would be harder to prove.

    A combination of restricted time frames for the processes and continue poor funding for the electoral commission left the roll “in a shambles”, as Zimbabwe’s election body itself conceded. Close analysis of the roll has been impossible so far: it was only made available on Wednesday, in a raw form and with as many as 900 000 duplicate entries.

    Among the improbabilities on the roll already alleged by the MDC is that there are more than 200 000 voters older than 103, and that districts had a higher number of registered than their total population.

    That is on top of a registration process that made it much harder for those in urban areas to register than their rural counterparts: the MDC is favoured in cities, while Zanu-PF sees strong support in more rural areas. Also excluded from the vote were Zimbabweans who live outside the country, including the estimated 500 000 who spend most their time in South Africa.

    Yet all those problems represent only the most obvious hurdles that will inevitably affect the opposition voter, and its accurate reflection.

    Some areas of manipulation are more subtle, and evidence harder to find. Particularly intriguing and worrisome was the involvement of Israeli company Nikuv International Projects in the editing of Zimbabwe’s voters’ roll. As the Mail& Guardian reported in April, Nikuv has been accused of helping several sitting governments in rigging polls.

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