ZIMBABWE: ‘This so-called election was a circus and a waste of resources’

ObertMasaraureCIVICUS speaks about Zimbabwe’s August general election and its aftermath with Obert Masaraure, national president of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and spokesperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which brings together 84 Zimbabwean civil society organisations (CSOs).

What was at stake in this election?

This was an important election. We were expecting both a democratic and an economic breakthrough after years of dictatorship and economic stagnation. Millions of young people are dropping out of school, thousands are dying after failing to secure healthcare and millions are unemployed. We expected change to happen.

But we were disappointed. Civil society tried to engage with the electoral process and play a monitoring role but was criminalised. Those who were doing voter tabulation were arrested. After the Election Management Board barred civil society groups we had to monitor the electoral process clandestinely. In the run-up to the election we also did a lot of voter education. We managed to generate excitement among voters, but on voting day they were frustrated.

What’s your assessment of the credibility of the results?

According to the results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on 26 August, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) received 52.6 per cent of the vote, while the leading opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), received 44 per cent. But these results are not credible because the polls were held on a flawed electoral field and the ZEC failed to discharge its duty to run a reasonably free and fair election, as evidenced by multiple acts and omissions.

First, the ZEC didn’t supply ballot papers or the voter roll in time to many polling stations in the provinces of Bulawayo, Harare and Manicaland, which are traditional opposition strongholds. This was a clear attempt to suppress voters and help the incumbent stay in power.

The Electoral Act mandates ZEC to display the voter roll at all polling stations 48 hours before the polls open, but most polling stations only received it on election day. This had consequences for the opposition, because in urban areas, where the opposition is stronger, at least 180,000 voters couldn’t find their names at the designated polling stations on election day. Their names had been moved after a shambolic delimitation process but as voter rolls had been unavailable until the last minute, these voters were unable to locate their new polling stations.

According to a ZEC statement, only 23 per cent of polling stations opened on time in Harare, with 75 per cent doing so in Bulawayo and 85 per cent in Manicaland. Some polling stations in Harare were still waiting for ballot papers as late as 6pm, one hour before closing. In contrast, in the majority of the ruling party’s strongholds, typically in harder-to-reach areas, election materials were received early and all polling places were open at the scheduled time.

In urban areas there were waiting times of up to 12 hours. Many people were unable to vote within that period and voting had to be extended to 48 hours. In rural areas, where the ruling party is strongest, the maximum waiting period was 30 minutes. Additionally, an estimated 42,000 civil servants who were working as polling officials could not vote after the ZEC refused to facilitate their voting.

The overall impact of this was to disenfranchise millions of voters and suppress opposition voters while encouraging those of the ruling party.

There were also lots of fraudulent and deceptive practices. There were cases where local candidates were taken off the ballot, as happened to CCC’s Shepherd Sithole in ward 1 of Bulawayo. A shocking incident was also recorded in which party symbols for ZANU-PF and the CCC were switched, confusing voters and making it impossible to record their actual choice.

There were reports from at least 50 polling stations in rural areas that the supposedly indelible ink used could easily be washed away. This was suspected to be a deliberate attempt to allow rural voters to vote multiple times to inflate the results for ZANU-PF. The postal ballot mechanism also appeared to be abused for ballot stuffing, as at least 35 polling stations reported receiving more postal ballots than they had voters registered.

There were numerous instances of intimidation at polling stations. A ZANU-PF affiliate, Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), set up ‘exit survey tables’ in at least 1,340 polling stations. Individual voters were asked to declare who they had voted for and provide their personal details. FAZ also recorded the serial numbers of voters’ ballot papers and told voters they would be able to tell who they voted for. Needless to say, this intimidated voters who have experienced a long history of serious political violence.

This was a sham, not an election. It was a circus and a waste of resources that subverted the will of the people and illegally kept the incumbent in power.

What needs to happen next to bring about democracy in Zimbabwe?

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has demanded the immediate announcement of a date for a fresh free, fair and credible election. We must put an end to the long history of disputed elections in Zimbabwe and usher in a legitimate government that can lift Zimbabwe up from the category of a pariah state, rebuild its economy and improve the lives of its people.

Zimbabwe needs an inclusive national dialogue to broker a political settlement leading to credible elections supervised by the Southern African Development Community and the African Union. Zimbabweans should play their role in exerting pressure on the government to force it to agree to dialogue.

Zimbabwean pro-democracy organisations must be strengthened through international support so that they can play their proper role in a transition to democracy. The international community is also invited to exert pressure so that the government agrees to engage in an inclusive national dialogue. And while it does not, the international community must isolate the country from the family of nations. A dictatorship does not deserve a seat on any international platform.

Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with Obert Masaraure through its Facebook page and follow @omasaraure on Twitter



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