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More violence, rigging looms

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It is increasingly become real that elections in Zimbabwe shall be conducted somewhere in 2013. It is also highly likely and possible that the imminent general elections shall again be characterised by most of the pervasive electoral malpractices which since independence have contributed to legitimacy erosion on leaders emerging from such controversial elections.

Report by Jack Zaba

Violence and fraud have pervasively been associated with the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe’s 32-year history. Admittedly, the twin electoral evils are not the only bad spells characterising our elections since other malpractices like media manipulation and obnoxious laws have also contributed to the betrayal of the people’s will during elections. However, the mastery of violence and manipulation of poll outcomes have consistently determined the results at most elections in the past. As reality for elections in 2013 dawns upon us, it is pertinent to ascertain whether election stakeholders have in the past four years been able to convert the 2008 election fiasco into lessons learnt for the improvement of their approach to elections.

An analysis of the trends of election-related violence in the past immediately indicates that, the use of violence and reliance on electoral fraud are closely associated to the level of competitiveness of the election in question.

It is of no coincidence that as we draw closer to elections, the people of Zimbabwe are once again exposed to open threats from serving members of the military, as they declare their uncompromising allegiance to certain political formations over others. Indeed the people of Zimbabwe should understand better the ominous re-emergence of militia groups such as Chipangano in Harare, Al Shabab in Kwekwe and other related merchants of violence throughout the country.

Election fraud, either disguised as administrative malpractice or otherwise, has often times influenced the outcome of the electoral contestation. The mystery behind the 34 days’ wait for presidential poll results in 2008 remains fresh in the minds of many. As we angle toward another election, and as the competition remains evidently stiffer among the political protagonists, it is quite in order to predict that another more serious and probably subtle attempt to manipulate the outcome of elections is real. Such attempts might not only be confined to the polling day manipulation of results, rather the rigging might straddle throughout the electoral cycle with key processes like voter registration, recruitment of polling officials and delimitation of electoral boundaries being chief targets.

While there are current efforts on the reform agenda, aimed at instituting mechanisms to deter and detect such incidents of fraud, the sad reality is that Zanu PF has tactfully repelled attempts to adopt such mechanisms. Rather they have centred most of their electoral reform thrust on seemingly peripheral issues, for instance, electoral systems which historically have not been the major problem with our elections in Zimbabwe. They have strongly rejected any other reforms that might limit their ability to manipulate electoral processes.

Four years have passed, and the people of Zimbabwe are yet to be convinced and re-invigorated through the establishment of a defined strategy to effectively respond to the routine violence that is likely to come upon them.

As the debate over suitable dates for the next polls continues, it is imperative for those political parties with lesser control of the State apparatus of violence to be proactive and realise that placing their hope only on proposed constitutional and electoral reforms might be the shortest return route to June 27, 2008. It’s already time they started exploring other community-driven voter and vote protection strategies in order to instil confidence in their supporters.

Civic society organisations invariably contribute towards the promotion of integrity in all electoral processes. Their mandate is generally focused on encouraging citizens to positively participate in the elections either as candidates or more importantly as voters. The emergence of strong multi-partyism in Zimbabwe coincided with the rise of an equally strong civic society. Commendably most civic groups have conducted a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring peaceful elections as well as limiting electoral fraud during the last decade.

As the reality for Zimbabwe’s next elections dawns, it is again time for civic society to reflect and refocus on how best they can contribute towards reduced levels of violence and outcome determinative electoral fraud. It is indeed time for civic society to engage in citizen empowerment initiatives that would encourage community-driven voter and vote protection mechanism.  Critically, it’s no longer business as usual for civic society.

As political parties and civic society continue to grapple over how best to respond to the enduring twin evils of violence and electoral fraud, it remains imperative for such efforts to recognise the centrality of the citizens in violence mitigation measures.

Jack Zaba writes in his personal capacity. You can contact him on zabajack09@gmail.com

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