We may not know when the 2018 general elections will be held exactly, but Zanu PF has clearly taken an early lead. And that is because it is rigging the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise big time.
By TAWANDA MAJONI
The 72-day campaign to produce a new voters’ roll started just under two weeks ago, and if things stay the way they are at the moment, it may just be wise to declare Zanu PF the winner and forego all the labour and pain that usually attend to Zimbabwean polls. The opposition can rant as loud as it feels and form as many alliances as it wants, but there won’t be any point to contesting the elections given the magnitude of cheating taking place.
This is particularly true for rural areas where manipulation of potential voters is manifesting through various forms. If you thought that voter intimidation only happens on the eve of and during elections, think twice. This time around, it has started with the very first stage of an election — voter registration. This intimidation is systematic and looks to have been meticulously planned.
BVR is a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe. Evidently, Zanu PF is using this new beast to instill fear in the hearts of the vulnerable rural electorate by creating an aura of mystery around it so as to scare potential voters. Most commonly, the generally impressionable rural registrants are being told that the BVR system will detect how they will vote.
Villagers know pretty well what Zanu PF can do to people who vote “wrongly”. Memories of 2008 when their relatives, friends and neighbours were maimed, tortured and killed for supporting the opposition are still fresh in their minds. A lot of people from southern Zimbabwe remember the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s. And because they don’t wish a repeat of those harrowing experiences, they are likely to avoid voting “wrongly”.
But intimidation in rural areas has taken other nuances. Zanu PF grassroots structures are recording the serial numbers of voter slips.
That is a silent and deliberate strategy also meant to scare the potential voters. Granted, one’s vote is supposed to be one’s secret, but the spooky reality of one’s voting details being in hostile hands will always linger even as one casts one’s vote in that small translucent box. Given the mostly uninformed nature of our rural colleagues where elections are concerned, this is a serious issue.
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That Zanu PF agents are drawing up lists of people who would have registered may look innocuous at the first glance. That is not the case, though. The message is loud and clear.
Big Brother is watching! And our sorry brothers out there will quake at the idea of being watched by Big Brother whose thick shadow will haunt them straight into the polling booth.
In fact, some of these agents have brazenly told the rural electorate that they are monitoring the villagers. They have taken this undiluted brazenness to a higher level, threatening registrants with expulsion from their homes and pieces of land, among the other usual threats that the ruling party has become notorious for. In some cases, opposition members have been assaulted for attempting to register.
The mere fact that traditional leaders are in firm control of who registers or doesn’t is ominous. They remain largely beholden to Zanu PF and evidence shows that they are not leaving anything to chance. They are compelling perceived opposition supporters to pay unusually huge fees to register. They are demanding livestock and other forms of payment from opposition members to obtain proof of residence in the form of affidavits. Without these affidavits, they can’t register.
Which means they wouldn’t be able to vote. Now, 72 days is a short time. That means that if this form of exclusion persists, a few, if any, opposition members will manage to register. When the opposition fails to register, the ruling party will win the game without kicking a ball, you see.
Demanding payment for affidavits discourages registrants. There is so much poverty in rural areas that villagers can go for months without a single cent in their pockets.
The minimum of 50 cents that villagers are being forced to pay for affidavits is a fortune by rural standards. That means people will stay away from registration centres. Ordinarily, this would disadvantage both Zanu PF and opposition supporters. The problem, though, is that there a lot of bias in how the issue of the fee is being handled.
Ruling party supporters can obtain the affidavits for free, while perceived or known opposition supporters must invariably pay. Since they can’t afford to pay, they will not be able to register and vote.
Registration in urban areas is also problematic. In the main, the strategy is to exclude urban voters by slowing down the registration process as much as possible.
ZEC and related officers are making sure that frustrating the urban electorate. Registration is taking place at a snail’s space at the few centres available. Urban areas are traditionally opposition strongholds. The less the number of people who register, the better for Zanu PF.
This cheating seems to be happening with the blessings and connivance of state organs. It is particularly disturbing that ZEC, the police and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) have failed to stem the rigging. ZEC, for instance, is supposed to ensure that there is adequate voter education which would have easily dispelled the intimidating myths about the BVR. Hardly anything was done towards creating adequate awareness of the BVR process.
Considering the level of manipulation that has occurred since 10 October when the process commenced, the commission must have at least put in place measures to curb the cheating. ZEC may be poorly resourced, but what is the point of carrying on with a futile exercise?
It is not clear how many victims of this manipulation have reported to the police or ZHRC, but some have done so. We are yet to see the results. In fact, I am told that the police are not entertaining reports from the few whose rights were violated.
I find it seriously odd that the opposition is merely jawing about the Zanu PF-led manipulation of the BVR process. There is nothing wrong with complaining, of course.
But there must be real action to complement that. In Kenya, Raila Odinga and his coalition have left The National Alliance and its leader, Uhuru Kenyatta, sweating over a fraudulent election.
The opposition is refusing to legitimise electoral theft. Yet here, the opposition will, as it has always done, get into the elections knowing fully well how the odds are stacked against it.
l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on [email protected].