On Thursday nomination courts will sit across the country to receive names of eligible candidates for the July 30 harmonised elections amid heightened expectations that Zimbabwe will this time around break away from its culture of disputed polls.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Robert Mugabe in November last year after a coup, has repeatedly promised Zimbabweans and the world a clean election.
The pre-election environment has remained peaceful and opponents of the ruling Zanu PF party are being allowed unfettered access to campaign in rural areas that had become no-go areas for the opposition during Mugabe’s reign.
However, the massive demonstration by MDC Alliance supporters in Harare last Tuesday demanding electoral reforms was a reminder that a disputed election still remains a possibility come July 30.
The opposition’s main gripe with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is that the supposedly independent body has not been forthcoming about information on the printing of ballot papers.
The fear that rigging of the forthcoming polls, if it happens, will revolve around the manipulation of ballot papers is real.
Zec last week released the 2018 harmonised election roadmap, which was totally silent about the process of designing and printing of the ballot papers.
One of the poll observers, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, noted that the “Electoral Act states that Zec should without delay provide information to all political parties, candidates and observers on where and by whom the ballot papers for the election are being printed.”
Opposition parties are legitimately demanding that Zec avails to them information about who will print the ballot paper and the location of the printers.
Access to the voters roll to interested parties in time to “allow for electoral contestants to verify if the people who support their nomination are in the voters roll” is a requirement of the Electoral Act that Zec needs to respect.
So far, Zec has not shown an indication that it is adhering to the law in that regard and that is a recipe for a disputed election.
This year’s election is open to international observers, including those from the United States and Europe.
Some of the observers, such as the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, have already sent pre-election assessment teams that are raising red flags around the lack of voter education, lack of guarantees by the military that it will not interfere in the electoral process and the lack of clarity on the printing of ballot papers.
There is also consensus that time is running out for Mnangagwa to prove that his rhetoric about credible elections is not a gimmick to gain international acceptance following the controversial manner in which he ascended to the presidency.
Zimbabwe desperately needs a free and fair election to start the delayed economic reconstruction.
July 30 is the biggest opportunity we cannot afford to miss by letting Zec superintend over another manipulated election.