Hard to Tell There's an Election Coming in Zimbabwe

Integrated Regional Information Networks, United Nations, February 28, 2008

Zimbabwe votes in a month's time, yet there is little evidence on the ground that the country is about to hold one of its most crucial elections since independence from Britain in 1980.

For the first time, Zimbabweans will elect their local councilor, parliamentary representative, senator, and president in one poll on March 29. But there are hardly any signs of the usually frantic campaigning ahead of any election: no posters, no door-to-door canvassing. So far the political parties have put on a lackluster show.

Useni Sibanda, the national coordinator of Christian Alliance, an organization of church leaders advocating for the return of democracy, told IRIN: "We have structures throughout the country, including rural areas, and our members say there is nothing to indicate that we are almost 30 days away from the elections."

As a result, few people were aware that elections were taking place. "Many say they have not received any voter education from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission." There are fears that the Z.E.C. does not have the capacity to conduct such elections.

ZANU-PF's commissar, Elliot Manyika, told local journalists that the ruling party's manifesto and its launch date were still being finalized. The ruling party has also not finalized its list of official candidates, as many constituencies now have more than one candidate representing ZANU-PF.

"There is a lot of tension in ZANU-PF following the split caused by former finance minister Simba Makoni, who is challenging [President Robert] Mugabe in the presidential election," said political commentator Justice Chinhara. "There is so much bitterness and uncertainty caused by the fact that the ZANU-PF heavyweights behind Makoni have chosen to remain under cover."

Makoni is expected to launch his manifesto and unveil his candidates this weekend at a rally in Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe's second city.

So far only a faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has launched its election manifesto. Tsvangirai had threatened to boycott the elections but his faction said it would take part under protest.

The M.D.C. had refused to participate because the government had not fulfilled pledges made during talks brokered by the Southern African Development Community and presided over by South African President Thabo Mbeki, to relax security and media laws internationally regarded as undemocratic.

The 210 constituencies in the country have been split into 1,958 wards. Utoile Silaigwana, deputy chief elections officer of the Z.E.C., told local media that they had set up a national logistics committee to mobilize resources for the elections. The Air Force of Zimbabwe and the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, which imports fuel, were part of the committee.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the other M.D.C. faction, said they still had concerns about the independence of the Z.E.C. He claimed the recent delimitation exercise by the Z.E.C. had created many constituencies in rural areas, which have tended to favor ZANU-PF, and had added a very small number of constituencies in urban areas, which have largely been regarded as M.D.C. strongholds.

Reports of glitches in the electoral process have begun to emerge: aspiring candidates submitted their nomination papers on Feb. 15, but the commission only released the list of candidates on Feb. 24; some candidates' names have been misspelled, some have been identified with the wrong political party.

Logistical and Other Problems

There is no pre-election voter education either. "We received a letter from Z.E.C. to stop voter education and to seek approval from them and we have done so," said Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, executive director of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, whose organization has provided this service for years.

"However, there are a lot of logistical problems that could be encountered during elections, like roads and bridges that were washed away by [the recent] floods, which could hamper the distribution of election material. Power cuts which could affect the counting exercise, and a poor communications network that could affect the transmission of results."

Chipfunde-Vava said the voting procedure was unknown. "It is not clear … if voters will receive one ballot paper at a time, or all four papers at once, which would require extensive voter education," she said.

"While it would be up to the political parties themselves to talk about pushing the election date to later in the year, as a pressure group we feel that it is important to have a good election, the outcome of which should not be contested."

Simon Khaya Moyo, Zimbabwe's ambassador to South Africa, told a briefing in Pretoria on Feb. 26 that all concerns and criticism related to Z.E.C.'s functioning were unfounded. "I am satisfied with the work of Z.E.C. to date."

He said the Z.E.C. officials and others from civil society, such as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, have embarked on a national voter education campaign. The country's law enforcement agencies have also "tightened security," with a countrywide ban on carrying "dangerous weapons" such as knives, guns, machetes, etc. He maintained that the political parties "have started campaigning in earnest."

M.D.C. faction spokesman Chamisa said rallies and meetings were still being barred, and Priscillah Misihairmbwi-Mushonga, another official from his party, claimed that the police had continued to harass campaigners. Opposition leaders were also not being given much coverage by the state broadcaster.

The Christian Alliance's Sibanda said the initial hiccups were an indication that poor organization could mar the elections. "If Z.E.C. can take more than a week to publish a list of candidates which is inaccurate, I shudder to imagine what will happen during national joint elections."

Moyo said it was "disingenuous" to question the "legitimacy" and "integrity" of the Z.E.C., and the claim that the delimitation exercise had been partisan was "totally baseless." He pointed out that the urban province of Harare, the capital, an opposition stronghold, had the maximum number of constituencies. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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