Zimbabwe: a flawed electoral process

Zimbabwe: A flawed electoral process.

BULAWAYO - Zimbabweans go to the polls on Saturday to choose a new president, parliament and local councils. But the opposition, Western governments, local and international human rights groups say pre-vote irregularities and a generally flawed electoral process means the make-or-break polls cannot be free or fair.

For starters, they say the voters’ roll is outdated and so distorted that it is in fact merely a register of people who were born or once lived in Zimbabwe from the 1900s to 2008 – whether they are still alive, dead or have long since left the country.
Other irregularities include politically motivated violence, gerrymandering of constituencies and the printing of millions of ballot papers more than are required.
ZimOnline correspondent Lizwe Sebata details below these and other discrepancies that critics say will tilt the vote in favour of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party:
Chaotic voters roll

A voter’s roll that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) agreed to release only after the opposition won a court order compelling the commission to do so revealed massive distortions including thousands of names of people who are long dead or have left the country to live abroad. 
For example, the late Desmond William Lardner-Burke who was minister of law and order in the white supremacist government of Ian Smith is listed as a voter in the Mt Pleasant constituency in Harare. Lardner-Burke, among hardliners in Smith’s government who opposed black majority rule, was born in 1908 and died many years ago in South Africa.
Also on the roll is Tichaona Chiminya, a former aide of main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader Morgan Tsvangirai who was murdered by state agents in the run-up to the 2000 parliamentary elections.
The MDC believes these ghost voters could rise on election day to sway the ballot in favour of the ruling party.
There are also widespread differences between the figures of people who registered to vote released by the ZEC and the figures appearing on the voters roll.
Take Gokwe Nembudziya constituency, for example, the ZEC said there are 27 261 voters in the constituency but the voters roll shows only 9 519 people registered to vote in that same constituency.
Another constituency, Goromonzi South, is shown having 19 422 voters on the roll which is 30.8 percent less than the 28 086 voters that the ZEC said were in the constituency.

Distribution of polling stations

Voter distribution across the country with large concentrations of voters in urban areas than rural would suggest that there would be more polling stations in cities than in rural areas where voters are more spread over.

That, however is not the way ZEC sees it. The commission put fewer polling stations in urban areas that also happen to be strongholds of the MDC and flooded rural areas with polling stations. Rural areas are known strongholds of Mugabe and ZANU PF.

For instance, there are only 379 polling stations in Harare where the average number of registered voters per polling station is 2 022. In Bulawayo, there are only 207 polling stations with the average voter per station being 1 514.

In rural Mashonaland East province, a stronghold of ZANU PF, the ZEC designated 1 038 polling stations with the average voters per station being 601.

In Mashonaland Central, another ZANU PF stronghold, there are 774 polling stations with the average voters per station being 579, raising suspicion that the ZEC was favouring the ruling party even before a single vote was cast.

According to independent election monitoring group, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), if theoretically all registered voters turned up to vote in Harare, it means each voter would have only 22 seconds to cast their ballot in the four elections for council, Senate, House of Assembly and president.

ZESN says there is a chance that hundreds of thousands of voters in urban areas could fail to vote in scenes similar to those witnessed during the 2002 presidential election, controversially won by Mugabe.

Violence and politicisation of food aid

Politically motivated violence and human rights abuses largely blamed on ruling ZANU PF party supporters have accompanied Zimbabwe’s elections since the emergence in 1999 of the MDC as the first potent threat to Mugabe and ZANU PF’s stranglehold on power.
The Zimbabwe Human rights NGO Forum said it recorded 336 cases of politically motivated human rights violations in the month of January alone and which it said were directly linked to campaigning for the Saturday polls.
The Forum said the police and other state security agents were to blame for the acts of violence and abuse, which targeted mostly opposition supporters in a bid to coerce them to vote for Mugabe and ZANU PF.
There have also been widespread reports by the MDC, churches and human rights groups of the government denying food to suspected opposition supporters as punishment for not backing ZANU PF.
Mugabe’s government denies using food as a political weapon or that its agents deny food aid to opposition supporters.

Three million extra ballots

It is incontestable that more ballots than the number of registered voters had to be printed just in case of an emergency. But it is a little alarming that the ZEC would print nine million ballots, which is three million more ballots than the 5.9 million registered voters.
The commission has said the surplus ballots were in case there is a shortfall, although without explaining what kind of shortfall would require an extra three million ballot papers.
The MDC has expressed fears that the extra ballots could be used to stuff ballot boxes.  

Police presence in polling booths

Mugabe changed the Electoral Act by presidential decree at the 11th hour to allow police to enter voting booths to assist illiterate or physically handicapped people. Previously, police had been banished to no nearer than 200 metres from booths, in a move that was seen as necessary to avoid intimidation of voters.
The opposition says the presence of police in voting booths will intimidate voters to vote for Mugabe and ZANU PF.
Delimitation of constituencies
The government has been accused of gerrymandering after the delimitation commission came up with more constituencies in the ruling party’s sparsely populated rural strongholds and fewer constituencies in the opposition supporting cities and towns.
Biased media coverage

Zimbabwe’s state-owned radio, television and newspapers have given more coverage to Mugabe and ZANU PF in the run-up to the election in total disregard of the Southern African Development Community guidelines on elections that require that all political parties should receive equal coverage in the public media.
No voter education

The ZEC has largely prevented independent groups such as ZESN from carrying out voter education but the under-funded commission has failed to reach out to all voters especially in remote areas to explain what is required in the four elections that are being held together for the first time in the country’s history. Analysts see chaos as a result.

National command centre

The ZEC has said ballots for all the other elections will be counted in constituencies and results announced there but for the presidential election, votes would be counted in constituencies and figures relayed to a national command centre in Harare where the chief elections officer will announce the result. The commission says this is according to the law which stipulates that only a chief elections officer can declare the winner of a presidential vote. But the MDC says having votes collated at a command centre manned either by serving or retired military men increases the risk of someone altering the result if they deemed it unfavourable.

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