HARARE – When football enthusiasts look back at the 2018 World Cup, the name of referee Nestor Pitana will loom large even above the stars of a French side that fired past a battling Croatia 4-2 to lift world football’s most lucrative silverware.
The ref awarded Antoine Griezmann a free-kick when he appeared to dive, and used Video Assisted Referee to give a 38th-minute penalty after a controversial handball from Ivan Perisic.
Both set-pieces led to goals, with Mario Mandzukic accidentally heading in Griezmann’s delivery into his own net and the France ace scoring from the penalty spot.
By the same token, the credibility of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chaired by Priscilla Chigumba will undoubtedly divide opinion, if not at worst, viewed in the same vein.
Zanu PF first secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa won the July 30 presidential election with 50,8 percent of the votes cast against his nearest contender Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance’s 44,3 percent.
Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party reportedly splashed an estimated $200 million on campaign material countrywide in order to scrap through.
The ruling party was accused of having had access to Zimbabweans’ phone numbers through which they wrote messages directly to citizens, but the referee waived play on.
There were remonstrations around the electoral field allegedly tilted in favour of Zanu PF, calls for transparency in the storage, printing and transportation of ballots, as well as the layout of ballot and postal vote scandal.
The public media, especially ZBC was so biased in its coverage towards Zanu PF while demonising other political players.
Still the referee, opened hands wide, gesturing it was fair play.
Then as the votes had been cast, delays in announcing the results only created anxiety and opened the door to speculations about the potential to manipulate results.
Soon MDC Alliance supporters spilled onto the streets in demonstrations that were violently thwarted by the army who shot and killed innocent unarmed civilians and left scores others injured.
The international community while admonishing the instigators also expressed outrage over the heavy-handedness of the military and its excessive use of force.
Yet, in all this Zec maintained they were blameless.
The electoral management body said “there was no rigging or cheating in the vote” whose presidential results announcement was made after four days of Election Day and in the dead of the night on Friday morning.
On the other hand, the Zanu PF government denied any misconduct with ruling party’s spokesperson Paul Mangwana insisting that the opposition was clutching at straws and should graciously accept defeat.
However, election watchdog Election Resource Centre (ERC) observed that:
“The voters’ roll given to stakeholders by Zec is not the one that was used at polling stations on Election Day. The roll used on Election Day was printed on 4 July, having been finalised on 1 June. This explains why a significant number of potential voters were also turned away.”
The Commonwealth observer mission to Zimbabwe failed to endorse the country’s elections as free, fair and credible leaving Zimbabwe’s hopes of re-joining the bloc of former Britain colonies hanging by a thread.
“Our preliminary statement concludes that there was an improved pre-election environment. On Election Day, at polling stations where we observed, the voting and the count were generally well conducted in a peaceful manner. Incidents of intimidation, media bias and hate speech, indicate that the playing field can be further levelled. We will comment on the results process in our final report. We commend the people of Zimbabwe for the enthusiasm and largely peaceful approach in the exercise of their franchise on Election Day,” the observer mission’s chairperson former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama said as he delivered his preliminary report which lacked the words free, fair and credible in it.
Analyst Gladys Hlatywayo pulled no punches: “Zec remains a discredited institution that is not trusted by citizens. The manner in which they brazenly disregarded the concerns of the opposition and sided with Zanu PF was a clear sign that it lacks independence. The design of the ballot, the contacts gate scandal, failure to enforce equal access to state media, delays in announcing electoral results, failure to display V11 forms outside polling stations all point to a compromised Electoral Management Board incapable of delivering a free, fair and credible election. The impact of this is that Zimbabwe’s crisis of illegitimacy continues unabated at the expense of the suffering ordinary Zimbabweans,” she said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the question of Zec credibility depends in the eyes of the beholder.
“To less inquisitive international community Zec is credible, managed to carry out a huge harmonised poll orderly, set up a multiparty liaison mechanism, remained on course despite huge logistics challenges and personal abuse of its chair by ogyistic sections of the opposition and delivered all results in less that the stipulated five days.
“They also did well using a defective and hollow Constitution that was created by politicians from MDC and Zanu PF. To Zanu PF, Zec is credible. But to opposition and sections of Zimbabweans that needed change they don’t have credibility.
“To me, I think they did their best under a defective Constitution. Though there are signs of rigging, much of the blame should go to the Constitution crafted not by a people-driven process but the same politicians.
“I applaud Chigumba for keeping strong despite abuses on her person and threats. I will not rush to dismiss the credibility of Zec without also looking at the credibility of the candidates who were involved in drafting a bad constitution and who the top two got party nominations through rigging or coup and were not sincere in the processes. Zec had a torrid time dealing with insincere politicians on both sides. Give them credit,” he said.
Analyst Teddy Ncube said after the elections are done and dusted it’s time for the leaders who have assumed power to “labour beyond blind loyalty, spineless propaganda narratives and spin doctoring.
“Now, let’s remake the economy. Let’s manufacture ideas which keep national interest sanguine. It’s time to tackle real issues. Poverty is real. Participation in good governance is not an option.
“Now, with no shadow of doubt, innovation, diligence and hard work must be channelled towards making Zimbabwe work beyond empty decorum of rhetoric. Make it open for business! Corruption must die. Leaders must account,” he said.