AS the crucial July 30 general elections draw closer, the political atmosphere is increasingly becoming toxic, with opposition parties getting more and more suspicious of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and its handling of the forthcoming polls.
It would appear the decision by Zec to change the set-up of polling booths could mean they have introduced new, transparent booths that allow the electoral management body’s officials at the polling station to coerce voters to vote in a particular manner.
The opposition argues that the new designs threatened the secrecy of the ballot, as voters would be casting their ballots facing Zec officials.
Yet, Zec insists the redesigned polling booths would not intimidate the voters, claiming the secrecy of the ballot was still guaranteed, but the move was to ensure voters will not take pictures after putting their X and subsequently publish them on social media.
Whether that is legal or not is neither here nor there, the move has simply been understood by the ordinary voters to mean that “big brother” will be watching them to see who they would have voted for.
That in itself, however, is problematic. The right to secrecy of the ballot is the right of the voter, not Zec. And if the voter wants to make their vote public, it is up to them, and there is no reason why Zec should accord itself the role of monitoring that voters do not disclose their choices. Of course, everything has unintended consequences.
The fact that Zec would be watching the voter casting the ballot may result in some voters feeling uncomfortable, and clearly, in extreme cases, is a subtle form of intimidation. In this case, the opposition’s fears are justified, because this is a crucial election.
The decision by Zec will unnecessarily raise tensions, because of how it breeds suspicion and mistrust, compromising the commission’s credibility and ability to deliver a free and fair election.
No doubt the Zec line of thinking is indeed “medieval” because social media is a reality of the contemporary world and one cannot bridle it as Zec is trying to do. Their actions point to some kind of fear. What are they afraid of? Even if the ballot pictures are shared on social media, why should that bother them if they are certain they are doing their job professionally? Are they afraid this may smoke out some underhand tactics?
Rather than waste time and energy on trivia, Zec should, instead, be attending to concerns raised around things like the biometric voters’ roll, whose credibility is now in serious doubt following indications by several think tanks that it has too many loopholes that could be used to “steal” the election.
The nation was hoping that with former President Robert Mugabe gone and his replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, having shown some willingness to reform, such things would now have become water under the bridge.
But it would appear we need to take this with a large helping of salt.