The confidence that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) appears to have in its autonomy gives the country the much-needed lift to the spirit.
ZEC Commissioner Professor Geoff Feltoe was in the news yesterday saying the commission would not brook any interference in its job and would execute its mandate to facilitate a smooth handover of power to electoral victors.
In the last elections, March 2008, Zimbabweans were kept in suspense for weeks after the electoral authorities failed to release results of elections citing all sorts of reasons. Almost everyone believed the results were available, but were not being announced by those who were supposed to announce them.
The most common conclusion drawn from the delay was that the authorities were trying to massage the results to project the outcome that certain people wanted.
Electoral officials said the delay was caused by the complexity of counting in presidential, parliamentary and local polls and the need to verify results meticulously. Few people, however, bought that story as tension mounted throughout the country.
People demanded the results, but the country’s feared security forces had warned they would not allow a victory declaration before counting was complete and results announced by the commission.
So Zimbabweans woke up each morning and retired to bed in the evening for days on end without the results of the election that had been closed days earlier. Tension and suspicion grew by the day and when the results were finally released, showing a tight contest and no absolute winner, many people cried foul.
The unconscionable delay of the election outcome widened the rift between contesting parties – even though there had been relative peace during the voting.
Many people felt their legitimate expectations as citizens of Zimbabwe had been cruelly crushed because they believed after weeks of “unwarranted” delays, the result of their vote had been tampered with.
After standing in long queues for hours in order to lodge their vote, the unacceptable vacuum of information concerning the election outcome stoked unnecessary speculation and suspicion. The longer the delay in election results announcement, the greater the potential for unrest.
The current ZEC, a product of the inclusive government, is expected to do much better than the previous set-up which many believed was heavily compromised – politically.
Feltoe’s assurance then that the commission would release results of elections within five days of closure of the polls is very refreshing indeed. Feltoe went further to say the commission would not be intimidated by anyone – including security forces – into acting unprofessionally. He said: “We take the security sector as professional institutions and we expect them to operate professionally without bias as enshrined in our Constitution.
“We encourage professionalism in the sector and we believe with the reforms currently being done, everyone will respect the outcome of the elections.” Another encouraging aspect of the professor’s remarks was the mention of equal campaigning opportunities anywhere in the country. Achieving that may be a long shot for ZEC, but the fact that there is that effort directed at this aspect of the election is good.
ZEC also assured Zimbabweans there would be special courts to deal with cases of political violence during elections. There would too be peace liaison officers based at all polling stations to deal with matters of political violence. What is now expected of ZEC is to put its house in order — demystify its allegedly compromised secretariat and raise money to register voters and then run elections as they are constitutionally mandated.