Over two months since Zimbabwe held its first post-Robert Mugabe elections, the outcome of the polls is still being disputed by the country’s biggest opposition party, the MDC Alliance.
The big interview BY XOLISANI NCUBE
MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa accuses President Emmerson Mnangagwa of rigging the elections with help from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and has refused to concede defeat.
Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba was thrust into the centre of the dispute as she was accused of favouring Mnangagwa.
However, the Constitutional Court last month dismissed Chamisa’s petition challenging the results.
Chigumba (PC), who has since gone on leave until November, told our senior reporter Xolisani Ncube (XN) in an exclusive interview yesterday that her conscience was clear and believes that Zec ran a transparent election.
She said she was unfairly targeted by “sore losers” and advised the winning MPs to use their terms to push for electoral reforms if they were not happy with the current legislation.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
XN: The election period is over. What is your assessment of the 2018 elections?
PC: The 2018 elections went on well according to the commission’s roadmap and the laws of the country. This was also confirmed by the majority of observer groups in their initial reports.
XN: What is your reaction to the incident in Parliament two weeks ago where you were booed by opposition MPs that accused you of being a thief?
PC: People are entitled to their opinions and are free to demonstrate as the constitution allows for freedom of expression.
However, it is worrying to observe that some people still believe that their party’s victory was stolen by the commission despite due process being followed.
The commission is convinced that it had strongly rebuffed evidence to the allegations raised by the applicant, who unfortunately, could not back up his claim to the satisfaction of the Constitutional Court.
XN: Do you think the behaviour of the opposition MPs was justified given the way the election was conducted?
PC: It was not justified and I am convinced that they know the truth and are aware that the elections were professionally conducted in accordance with the laws of the country.
Their behaviour can best be explained as political posturing meant to ingratiate themselves with their supporters for reasons best known to them.
Our conscience is clear. As I said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and expression.
However, I think it is grossly unfair to hurl unsubstantiated accusations at someone under the guise of exercising freedom of expression.
XN: Do you have any regrets about how the election was run given the court challenges that have characterised the post-election period?
PC: I have no regrets at all since the elections were conducted in terms of our law and international best practice.
XN: According to the joint International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Zimbabwe International Election Observation Mission (ZIEOM), “false information circulated to undermine confidence in the secrecy of the vote, under-registration of urban voters, and failure to provide the preliminary voters roll in electronic format” undermined the July 30 elections. Do you agree with that assessment?
PC: Definitely we do not agree, but they are entitled to their own view. That is the essence of democracy.
As far as we are concerned, the commission conducted the elections guided by the laws of the country.
The voters roll was made available in searchable and analysable electronic format as stipulated by the law.
The commission also made efforts to provide essential information to stakeholders at any given turn.
It is unfortunate if the two observer missions concluded their observations with such an assertion.
XN: The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission said you had not done enough to earn the confidence of the contesting parties that you were independent. What is your comment on that?
PC: That is their view. However, the commission is independent as stipulated by law and so am I.
The commission ensured that it continuously engaged stakeholders in its preparations for the elections and will continue to do so in the forthcoming elections.
Hopefully, stakeholder confidence in the commission will grow as time goes on.
XN: Other concerns included the high number of assisted voters and confusion around sub-polling stations. Were these issues of any concern to Zec?
PC: There is a tendency by some stakeholders to generalise issues without providing statistics to back up allegations being made.
For instance, on the issue of assisted voters, the commission is still to ascertain and analyse data from polling protocol registers to see how many voters were assisted to vote.
However, we are surprised that there are already people speaking authoritatively as if a national survey on assisted voters was conducted.
Furthermore, the commission noted that the so-called confusion at sub-polling stations did not affect voting as this was quickly addressed by polling officers.
The created sub-polling stations actually facilitated the speedy processing of voters since no polling station handled more than 1 000 voters.
XN: The MDC Alliance petition challenging the presidential election raised a number of issues, which the party said undermined the elections. Are there any lessons that Zec learnt from the legal process?
PC: The commission learnt that it is important to safeguard the identity of its documents and for stakeholders to authenticate them through appendage of signatures among other measures.
It would have been difficult for the commission to rebut the allegations made against it if it did not have documents signed by party agents to signify that they were in agreement with what had transpired at their places of deployment.
If the commission had failed to follow the dictates of the law, it would have been found wanting resulting in it losing court cases that arose before and after the elections.
XN: What can be done to ensure Zec is “widely perceived to be an independent election management body capable of administering credible elections” as recommended by the NDI and IRI in their post-election reports?
PC: There is need to manage perceptions through continuous stakeholder engagement and information dissemination through various modern platforms.
There is also need for stakeholders to play their part through dissemination of correct and objective information on the country’s institutions in order for the electorate to have trust in their institutions.
XN: The issue of traditional leaders actively participating in ruling party activities ahead of the elections was raised by the NDI and IRI as well as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission as another problem that undermined the elections. Is there anything Zec could have done about it?
PC: Zec played its part through stakeholder engagements and by discouraging any conduct that violated the law.
In some instances, legal action was taken and the court made decisions, which stakeholders should follow.
Zec met with the relevant authorities and reminded them of provisions of the law.
Furthermore, the commission also communicated these publicly in press statements and in the electronic media.
XN: Have you at any time during the election period felt your security was under threat or your privacy had been invaded?
PC: Every public official will inevitably be subjected to scrutiny about the manner in which they discharge their duties.
To a certain extent, public officials’ conduct must be beyond reproach.
However, I hold the considered view that there is an invisible line which must never be crossed.
Unfortunately, it was crossed not for purposes of achieving any positive outcome, but purely to feed misogynistic prejudices and to maliciously distort a well-managed process and its outcome by sore losers.
The social media was used to peddle falsehoods, hatred and threats on a fellow commissioner and on my person. However, I was not physically harmed by anyone.
XN: Since the harmonised elections are over, what major activities will Zec be engaged in other than by-elections that might arise?
PC: Elections are not a one-time event, but happen in a cycle. The commission is currently preparing for the forthcoming constituency delimitation exercise.
Voter registration and voter education is also continuous while by-elections will be held in those areas where vacancies may arise.
The commission will review its processes to see if there is need to amend the law or improve any of its administrative functions.
The commission will also participate in other election observer missions to learn more from them.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission would like to urge all those representatives of the people who were duly elected to both houses as well as all Zimbabwean citizens to use the time between now and 2023 to draft and promulgate the electoral law that they want.
It is not incumbent on the commission to make electoral law or to use disingenuous tools of interpreting it to fill in any gaps or ambiguities.
Come 2023, the Zec will apply and implement the provisions of the Electoral Act, its regulations and the constitution without fear, favour or bias.
The current Zec chairperson, commissioners and secretariat are confident that they discharged their duties to the best of their abilities and within the confines of the law.
Those who are unhappy with the current law are encouraged to work towards changing it now so that it accurately reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people and so that the electoral law will never again be the root cause of polarisation in our electoral processes.