Sham poll vindicates boycott by opposition

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Zanu PF is basking in the glory of its clean sweep of the one-sided 16 by-elections held across the country on Wednesday, but it would be foolhardy for the party to ignore the boycott by major opposition parties.

The ruling party was clearly desperate to regain control of Bulawayo and Harare, provinces that have rejected it since the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999.

Zanu PF pulled all stops to win the polls, including deploying President Robert Mugabe’s two deputies Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko to campaign for the candidates.

The boycott by the MDC formations did not justify the heavy spending on the campaigns, but Zanu PF was so desperate to increase its numbers in Parliament such that the costs became inconsequential.

Zanu PF could be harbouring unpopular ambitions to fiddle with a Constitution that was foisted on it by democratic forces that constituted part of the inclusive government in 2013.

There is no secret that the party was against most of the progressive provisions in the new Constitution such as devolution of power, which it has stubbornly refused to implement after winning the 2013 harmonised elections.

Zanu PF only agreed to democratic reforms because it had suffered a serious reversal during the 2008 polls, which left Mugabe’s hold on power severely compromised. Therefore, it is clear that the party never transformed from the institution that thrived on undemocratic means to maintain State power.

The desire to continue on this uncivilised trajectory saw the party pulling all stops to win the constituencies that were on offer on Wednesday, including those previously held by former Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and his nephew, Temba Mliswa.

According to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), the organisation that had the highest number of observers on the ground, although peaceful, the polls hardly passed the free and fair test.

Zesn cited serious voter intimidation in Hurungwe West, where there were numerous cases of violence allegedly perpetrated by Zanu PF officials, including named ministers.

Zanu PF was also implicated in cases of vote-buying.

Traditional leaders and Zanu PF officials in some constituencies were observed recording details of voters before
they arrived at polling stations and after they had cast their votes.

Zesn rightly pointed out that the practice violated sections of the Electoral Act, which outlaws any attempts to compel voters to vote for a particular candidate or party.

The organisation also noted the heavy presence of police inside polling stations, a practice civil society organisations have repeatedly criticised, arguing it intimidated voters.

More importantly, Zesn noted the effects of lack of voter education, such as the high number of voters who were turned away and the scourge of assisted voters.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s lack of preparedness for the by-elections was evident with the centralisation of the accreditation process and the reduction of polling stations especially in urban areas.

However, the disproportionate number of polling stations in rural constituencies such as Tsholotsho North would always raise eyebrows.

The numerous shortcomings that Zesn noted in its preliminary findings after the Wednesday polls and apparent voter apathy would vindicate the boycott by the MDC formations who are demanding electoral reforms.

Zanu PF cannot masquerade as a democratic party when so many Zimbabweans are choosing to stay away from voting because they have lost confidence in the electoral system.

Zimbabwe is struggling to regain its status in the community of nations after a history of questionable electoral practices and it does not benefit anyone for the country to continue on this undemocratic path.