Preparations for poll chaotic

"Zimbabwe Election Watch" is Sokwanele's Pre-Election Monitoring Project.

The harassment, intimidation, violence and vote rigging perpetrated by the Zanu (PF) government in the months preceding Zimbabwe’s 2002 Parliamentary elections created a climate of fear, repression and despondency.

For the March 2005 elections, Sokwanele, a Zimbabwean civic action support group campaigning for freedom and democracy, initiated a pre-election monitoring programme in the form of regular Election Watch reports.  The objective was to log examples of failures by the government to adhere to the SADC Principles and Guidelines for Democratic Elections, which Zimbabwe has formally agreed to uphold.

The introduction to our March 6 report follows.

March 2008 Elections – A climate of confusion and fear

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the official election administrator, has now published a list of 779 candidates for the 210 seats in the lower house of assembly, and 197 aspirants for the 60 elected seats in the upper house, the senate, from 12 political parties and 116 independents.  The choice is narrowed by the fact that three of those parties have clear national support.  The clarity ends there.

The muddle of candidates adds to the widespread concern about the elections when, for the first time, the electorate of 5.5 million people will have to mark their Xs on four different ballot papers for presidential, house of assembly, senate and local government wards.

Church and civic groups point out that the head of ZEC, Judge George Chiweshe, has been illegally appointed by Mugabe; that he ignored legal procedures for the setting of the election date; that the boundaries of the constituencies in the elections were illegally promulgated; and, that there is evidence of comprehensive manipulation of the voters’ roll.  They say ZEC has carried out almost no voter education on the complicated system, the campaign period is far too short and there is scant hope of all would-be voters being able to cast their vote in a single day….”

IRIN (UN) reports there is little evidence on the ground that the country is about to hold one of its most crucial elections.  Useni Sibanda, the national co-ordinator of the Christian Alliance, an organisation of church leaders advocating for the return of democracy, says that many rural people and others have not received any voter education.

The level of violence and intimidation is of even greater concern.  The opposition for Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says that incidents of violence and arrests of their candidates, polling agents and supporters have intensified.  In Muzarabani, the houses of several MDC activists were burnt down.

In Manicaland, the MDC spokesperson for the province and two officials were viciously attacked by a mob of over 45 youths from a farm owned by a Zanu PF senator.  Members the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe were indiscriminately beaten with iron bars, logs, booted feet and bottles. Women were also kicked in their private parts for not supporting President Mugabe.

During the past month, more than 35 MDC candidates from Morgan Tsvangirai’s faction have been abducted or arrested on spurious charges.  A female ward councilor was so severely beaten she had to be hospitalized.

Churches and human rights groups say a relentless wave of political violence over the past 12 months, in which police and other state security forces have played a major role, has rendered a free and fair contest impossible.

Expressing his organisation’s concern, Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, said: “Consistent reports of partisan policing and torture by Zimbabwean police against civilians heightens our concern for the safety of Zimbabwean citizens during the election.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, told the Zimbabwean that “the high number of indictments for torture filed by the Attorney General’s Office show it is widespread.”

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has expressed concern at the continued harassment of voters and aspiring candidates by election officials presiding over some voter inspection centers.  ZHLR also notes that several candidates wishing to check the voters’ roll in preparation for their nomination have been denied their right to do so.

The MDC (MT) House of Assembly candidate for Harare North, Theresa Makone, says there are many ghost voters registered in the constituency and it was done systematically with what appears to be the collaboration of election authorities.  In addition, many names of dead people still appear on the roll.

Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba has ordered the state broadcaster ZBC to pull off air voter education advertisements placed by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network.  This is in blatant contravention of the SADC principles governing the conduct of elections in member countries.  ZEC has admitted it is ill equipped and under funded to carry out any exercise on its own.

The state-run Chronicle newspaper has rejected advertisements from presidential challenger Simba Makoni to advertise an election campaign rally.  The independent Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe reports that media coverage is still heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party.  Vote buying is widespread and Zimbabwe’s central bank has “donated” a fleet of brand new vehicles to state media houses “for immediate use”.

Reporters Sans Frontieres says the daily lot of Zimbabwean journalists has consisted of permanent surveillance, police brutality and injustice.  New electoral laws negotiated under South African mediation have made no difference to biased public media and the skewed electoral climate in Zimbabwe.

Retired Major-General Paradzayi Zimondi, the commissioner of prisons, told his staff at the end of February:  “I am giving you an order to vote for the President (Cde Mugabe)…”  The same week, Mugabe awarded salary increments to the military, just one month away from the elections.  The armed forces are crucial in his bid to retain power.

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