As Zimbabwe heads for watershed elections in 2018, stakeholders have expressed doubt over the possibility of free, fair and credible polls saying the current government lacks the propensity to reform and usher in reforms that will lead to credible polls.
This came out during a Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) “Quill Debate” held in the capital on March 22, 2018. The debate was held under the theme; “Beyond the Rhetoric: Interrogating the Possibility of Free, Fair and Credible Polls in 2018”.
The “Quill Debates” are meant to provide a platform for discussion of critical national issues.
Panelists at the Thursday meeting included the Election Resource Centre Director, Tawanda Chimhini, MDC-T National Secretary for Mobilization, Job Sikhala and National Patriotic Front (NPF) Spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire.
There was consensus among the panelists that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s promise of free and fair elections is mere rhetoric as events obtaining on the ground do not create the environment for credible polls.
Aspiring Member of Parliament for Harare Central, Linda Masarira and renowned lawyer, Jeremiah Bhamu, who was representing the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) were also part of the panel.
In his remarks, ERC Director, Tawanda Chimhini expressed concern that over the years, there has been lack of political will to implement political reforms and this has continued even in the so called new dispensation.
According to Chimhini, Zimbabwe lacks legal provisions to guarantee free, fair and credible polls and the piecemeal amendments to the Electoral Act are a cause for concern.
He added that “executive influence” over electoral processes in Zimbabwe works against the freeness, fairness and credibility of elections.
MDC-T representative, Job Sikhala said events currently obtaining on the ground do not point to free, fair and credible elections.
He cited the issue of intimidation of voters, the deployment of members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) to campaign for Zanu (PF) in rural areas, partisan conduct by traditional leaders as well as the issue of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) being staffed by members of the military.
“The promise of free and fair elections is not commensurate with what is obtaining on the ground. What (President) Mnangagwa says is directly the opposite of what he does. Right now, the state media remains a propaganda machinery of Zanu (PF) and the independence of ZEC is not guaranteed.
“We have it on good authority that members of the military intelligence are being recruited into ZEC and the army is busy intimidating people and campaigning for Zanu (PF). The current environment does not in any way guarantee free and fair elections,” said Sikhala.
NPF Spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire said it was a fallacy to expect free, fair and credible polls “from a government that came in through a coup”.
“What happened in November was a coup by every definition. The rhetoric is that we are in a new political dispensation and that we will hold free and credible polls. As NPF, we are going to take the legal route to challenge the legitimacy of this government,” said Mawarire.
His sentiments were echoed by Linda Masarira who said that Zimbabwe was under military rule and under such circumstances, free, fair and credible polls are impossible.
“The Zimbabwean state is currently captured by the military while key state institutions remain captured and there is no guarantee of credible elections,” said Masarira
ZLHR representative, Jeremiah Bhamu said intimidation as well as vote buying is rife while the electoral commission is captured by the ruling party ahead of elections in Zimbabwe.