HARARE – The prospects for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe next year are remote without some concrete actions now to make that possible, including significant international involvement, a leading think-tank has said.
Cape Town-based NKC African Economics said it is not just the potential for rigging that is a concern but the state of the political environment in the months leading up to the 2018 polls — where previously intimidation, repression and manipulation of State resources was the order of the day.
This comes after Zimbabwean opposition parties and street protest movements on Wednesday joined forces to demand the disbanding of the Rita Makarau-led Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) ahead of elections next year that the protesters claimed are set to be rigged.
But NKC noted that removing the Zec is going to prove difficult given that the ruling Zanu PF has come to rely on systematic rigging.
“Having failed the fundamental test of impartiality and independence required of an election management board, the Zec must forthwith be disbanded and dismantled,” the opposition parties and protest movements under the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) said in a petition.
Some 200 protesters gathered at an open space outside the central business district after police banned a planned street march to the electoral commission head office, with riot police armed with truncheons and water cannons patrolling the central business district to prevent the protest march.
The opposition parties want biometric voter registration kits — procured by the United Nations Development Programme — to rid the electoral roll of phantom voters, fair media access to all political parties, and the deployment of international observers to monitor the polls.
“This country cannot be a country that every time we go for an election it is contested and there is dispute,” MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told the protesters before representatives handed over the petition to the electoral commission.
Tsvangirai received cross-party support for leading an anti-President Robert Mugabe coalition at Wednesday’s gathering.
But Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs Patrick Chinamasa said: “It is government’s responsibility to fund the electoral process. It is Zec’s constitutional obligation to conduct or run the presidential, parliamentary and local authority elections and it must do so without interference from any quarter.
“It would be a shame on Zimbabweans to feel that foreign governments or organisations have a role to play in the funding or conduct of our elections. Such notions are a denial of the principles of independence and sovereignty.”
Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Tendai Biti called on all opponents of Mugabe to join forces and forge a coalition to fight his Zanu PF party in next year’s elections.
“We are demanding fundamental electoral reforms,” Biti said.
NKC — a subsidiary of UK-based economic advisory firm Oxford Economics said — it was extremely unlikely that the Zanu PF regime will accede to the opposition demands and “we do not see any significant pressure from African institutions such as the African Union or the Southern African Development Community to pressurise Mugabe to comply and run a free and fair election.”
“That implies that the pressure will once again come mainly from Western nations whose concerns will simply be dismissed and disregarded as colonial interference,” the think-tank said.
“That means the people of Zimbabwe can expect no help in dealing with a rigged and uneven playing field in 2018.”