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Full throttle towards Zimbabwe elections

There are growing concerns that Zimbabwe could be headed for a disputed poll as differences between political parties about the electoral playing field widen. The opposition has declared a deadlock against the electoral body, which is digging in its position and privileges, on electoral reforms it wants before the vote.

Zimbabweans will head to the polls on July 30 to choose a new government and a substantive leader following the ousting of former president Robert Mugabe in November last year.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe through nomination from the ruling Zanu-PF party, will battle it out against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance’s Nelson Chamisa and 21 other contestants, including former vice-president Joice Mujuru.

The race to the July 30 poll is increasingly pointing to a disputed election, analysts said this week.

Chamisa declared a deadlock against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) after his party, now supported by other opposition parties, held a demonstration in Harare this week against lack of reforms.

“[This week] is decisive. When we say come, you have to come and we camp at ZEC offices. The way forward now, after engaging the ZEC, is that we are going into gear number two, and gear number two is serious business. Mnangagwa will abandon wearing the scarf,” Chamisa told his followers after Wednesday’s march to the ZEC offices to press for reforms.

This came as the ZEC announced it has finished printing the presidential ballot paper.

The MDC and its alliance partners have been demanding they be allowed to observe the ballot printing process.

A postal vote by police has also deepened tension ahead of the poll, as the opposition is accusing Zanu PF of acting to manipulate the outcome of the election.

But Zanu PF is digging in and appears poised to press ahead with preparations for the poll in spite of opposition party concerns.

Officials from the office running Mnangagwa’s campaign told City Press this week that the instruction was that the election would proceed because the interim Zimbabwean leader was keen to start with a fresh slate and put behind him the events of last November.

“It is full throttle towards the election. There is no going back and a lot of effort is being put into this campaign. I don’t see anything much changing in terms of what is there and what is being done,” said an official close to Mnangagwa’s campaign, which is being run differently to that of the party.

This has led to poor coordination between the Zanu PF presidential and party campaign processes. There have been disagreements and overlaps of duties, and those working on the programmes say it is a nightmare.

One such disjointed coordination emerged on Thursday when police said officers had voted in a postal ballot.

The ZEC said no voting had taken place, but subsequently admitted that voting had happened.

“There is no collaboration because everyone is focusing on their tasks at all levels. Some of the things you will not be aware of and there is usually no time for coordination. So many things are happening at the same time and from different centres,” another official said.

The ZEC has confirmed that the postal voting process, for those who will be on national duty on July 30, was now under way.

“There are no ballot boxes or polling stations for the postal ballot. The ballot has to be posted back to the ZEC,” ZEC chairperson Priscilla Chigumba said on Friday.

She sought to allay some of the concerns raised by other political parties, emphasising that printing and design of the ballot paper remained the prerogative of the electoral body. She said the ZEC has almost completed printing the ballot papers.

“Candidate names will still retain the alphabetical order of surnames. Issues to do with design and printing of ballot paper remain the exclusive prerogative of the ZEC. Presidential ballot printing has been completed. More than 50% of national assembly ballot printing is now completed,” said Chigumba.

But Chamisa and his alliance partners are sticking to their guns, suggesting the printing process has to be restarted because it was completed in their absence.

A court application calls for the ZEC to release a voters’ roll that carries pictures of registered voters, also heightening tensions over privacy issues.

Data privacy was also central this week after Zanu-PF candidates sent text messages to registered voters in their constituencies to ask for their votes.

The biggest telecoms company in Zimbabwe, Econet Wireless, and the ZEC have been dragged to court over this issue as most of the recipients were on its network, although it denied releasing its database and subscriber data to any third parties.

Zanu-PF has conceded that it sent the text messages during the week, explaining that the recipients were on its own database, but some recipients denied being members of the party, sparking a bitter feud over data privacy and alleged manipulation of the voters’ roll by the ruling party.

Zanu-PF denied this and other allegations that the electoral framework was skewed in its favour.

Mnangagwa said on Thursday that he would not lose sleep over the outcries and demonstrations by the opposition.

Vice-president Constantino Chiwenga has said the opposition should have campaigned for the reforms through Parliament, and should not wait for the next election.

There are now fears that the race to Zimbabwe’s poll could spark instability in a country that is already fragile and facing economic headwinds that have seen banks run out of cash, companies close and people lose their jobs.

A credible election will help Zimbabwe unlock much needed investment potential, say economists.

Workers in Zimbabwe have aligned differently as the race to the elections intensifies.

Peter Mutasa, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president, said during the week that Zanu-PF was responsible for the economic meltdown in the country because the party had “denied educated people the chance to go to work”.

He said for this reason, the union was backing Chamisa.

A rival union, Zimbabwe Workers for Justice, is, however, not impressed by Chamisa and is campaigning against him for spearheading a controversial court case that saw workers being laid off with little compensation.

Chamisa acted as the lawyer for a company which obtained a precedent-setting ruling against workers in Zimbabwe, although a higher court has subsequently overhauled the ruling, ordering that workers be laid off with proper compensation.

Gary Murambiwa
the authorGary Murambiwa