ZIMBABWE is again heading for disputed polls as evidence on the ground already shows possible manipulation of the electoral process, a new report has warned.
BY PATRICE MAKOVA
The report: Countering Electoral Manipulation: Strengthening Zimbabwe’s Chain of Democracy Choice, expresses misgivings on the integrity, transparency and the manner in which the electoral process is being handled by the authorities.
Produced by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), the report says civil society organisations (CSOs), political parties, the media and other actors must play a key role to mitigate a complex chain of electoral manipulation.
It says the manner in which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) exercises control over the electoral process, including transparency and efficiency in the exercise of their functions to meet the needs of the voting public, is being put to test.
Of concern, the report noted, are five key areas which include free flow of information to facilitate voter preference; participation without any hindrances; protection from undue pressure, intimidation and threats; integrity of electoral authorities; and irreversibility of results.
It outlines several areas which are possibly being manipulated during the different stages of the electoral cycle.
These include the on-going voter registration exercise where deceased people and phantom voters could be put on the roll.
The report says it would not be surprising to see unexplained surges in voters’ roll, disenfranchisement based on disputed citizenship, removal of potential voters perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition and deprivation of formal documents.
It says on election day, there is a possibility of denying observers access to polling stations, hot spots, pressurising voters through threats, abuse of mobile ballots, multiple and ghost voters and displacement of known and suspected opposition supporters.
VOTER MANIPULATION CANNOT BE RULED OUT — CIZC
CiZC director, MacDonald Lewanika said during the campaign period there are fears that the security services could be used to harass, character assassinate, intimidate people or violently break rallies just like what happened in the 2008 elections.
“During the counting and tabulation process, there is a potential bias on validation of votes, spoiling of opposition ballots, inflating of votes — take away opposition votes, tampering with results where election agents are not deployed and stuffing ballot boxes,” he said.
Lewanika said the past three elections in the country have been contested due to allegations of voter manipulation and violence.
But this year, he said the election would not be as violent as the last one in 2008, as Zanu PF will use psychological warfare premised on manipulating the fear inculcated in communities over years.
20 000 local observers needed for the polls
The report says to contribute to the integrity of the broad electoral process, CSOs must have a ready pool of local observers for the next poll, based on the logic of two observers per polling station.
“We argue for a ready pool of 20 000 observers because the Ministry of Justice is most likely to be late but swift in calling for observers,” the report reads. “As happened in the previous election, the minister invited 11 000 observers, but only managed to deploy 8 000 due to time and other constraints. In areas that are difficult to penetrate, there is need to rely on grassroots based organisations with structures in these areas already.”
The report, whose two researchers are Oxford University fellow, Phillan Zamchiya and Rhodes University doctoral candidate, Gideon Chitanga, says there is need to intensify the lobby for Sadc to deploy early election observers at least two months ahead of elections and one month after the polling.
“Early monitoring and observation can minimise electoral manipulation or at least influence other observer teams on a shorter-term period,” reads the report.
It says CSOs must advocate for non-partisan recruitment of polling officers.
“This is out of the realisation that it is now a herculean task to push for the reconstitution of the ZEC secretariat, especially the exclusion of prominent people that were associated with manipulating elections whose outcomes have been contested since 2000. The process as such, has to be all-inclusive, including the possibilities of participation in the vetting process by CSOs and other political parties,” reads the report.
The report says CSOs must maintain a watchful eye on the rumoured plans to field Border Gezi National Youth Service graduates as election officers in the Registrar General’s Office, after they were unilaterally confirmed as members of the public service by Zanu PF through the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment.