News in depth: Fears of violent 2023 polls grow as ED fails to deliver on promises

“By staying away from politics, I have stayed safe. Never again have I been threatened on political grounds.”

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA ANY talk of elections evokes memories of sadness, psychological torture and fear for Fadzai Museka from Bikita’s Madhuku Village in Masvingo.

Museka cannot forget the night of March 7, 2002, just two days into the presidential election campaigns when she was forced to desert her home and her then three month-old baby.

Museka, then a staunch MDC member was running away from the Zanu PF youth militia, which was baying for her blood for supporting the opposition party formed in 1999.

“They wanted to punish me for supporting a party of my choice,” Museka told The Standard.

“By staying away from politics, I have stayed safe. Never again have I been threatened on political grounds.”

She has never been into a ballot box since then.

Just like Museka, millions of Zimbabweans are still haunted by experiences of the past elections which have been marred by violence, disputes and rights abuses.

The abuses include killings by security forces, arrests and beatings of opposition supporters and journalists, disruption and ban of opposition rallies without thorough investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.

This, electoral observers say, has contributed to the growing voter apathy as millions of Zimbabweans have refused to take heed of calls by political parties to register to vote in the 2023 plebiscite.

Official statistics from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) show that 5 804 975 people are on the voters’ roll, a mere 2% increase from the 2018 figure of 5 695 706.

This is against a total of eight million eligible voters in the country as estimated by electoral watchdogs.

A survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) this year revealed that the 2023 polls was the leading cause of distress among Zimbabweans as political tensions heighten.

Rights activists and electoral watchdogs have warned of yet another disputed poll as there has been no meaningful measures put in place to ensure peaceful polls.

In the Zimbabwe Republic Police Horizon 2025, a document which maps the organisation’s strategic plan for the next five years, police said they were anticipating increased political tensions ahead of the 2023 harmonised elections.

Police asked government to avail funds for the acquisition of adequate equipment to manage public disorder and disaster situations.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika cast doubts on the possibility of authorities implementing the required electoral reforms to guarantee free and fair elections.

“Election seasons in Zimbabwe are periods of great anxiety and trauma.

“These are also periods of heightened repression, heightened security activity, and heightened abuse of human rights,” Kika said.

“Thus far, we are yet to see the electoral reforms that many have been pushing for.

“It is doubtful that we will see any reform prior to 2023, positive reforms that is.

“That being the case, 2023 will be no different from the other elections we have witnessed in previous years.

“The year 2023 might in fact be worse on account of the fact that we seem to be dealing with a wounded regime, that is advancing its power consolidation project with great vigour and determination, seeing that winning power through winning people’s hearts and minds has failed.”

Elections Resource Centre legal and advocacy officer Takunda Tsunga concurred with Kika saying: “The continued failure by state institutions to hold perpetrators of violence and right violators to account will only worsen the human rights and political crisis in Zimbabwe.

“The failure to address this will also have a negative bearing on the freeness and fairness of the 2023 harmonised election and increase the eventuality of election related disputes.”

Human rights’ organisations have in the past six months documented a total of 1191 politically motivated human rights violations,  according to the mid-year report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

Police have also intensified their clampdown against activists as campaigns for the 2023 elections are gaining momentum.

Scores of opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) members including legislators Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, and trade unionists who are facing various charges in what has been viewed as weaponistaion of the law.

Police deny accusations that it is partisan when handling political cases although it is apparent they tend to side with the ruling Zanu PF.

“The country is peaceful and as the police we have a constitutional mandate to ensure that law and order prevail in the country. Whoever wants to do any activity has to conduct that activity in a peaceful manner,” police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi told The Standard.

The European Union (EU) electoral observer mission made 23 recommendations after the hotly contested 2018 elections, including the alignment of the Electoral Act to the constitution and ensuring the independence of Zec.

Government has largely ignored the recommendations.

Independent policy research think-tank Sivio Institute has for the past four years been tracking the Zanu PF government’s policy implementation and monitoring progress on the 235 electoral promises made by Mnangagwa ahead of the 2018 polls.

According to Sivio Institute, government broke its pledge to uphold and apply fully the rule of law.

Political analyst Sydicks Muradzikwa predicted that the Zanu PF-led government would employ the “Machiavellian strategies of politics” to maintain its stranglehold on power in 2023.

“It is no surprise that the government has dismally failed on its stipulated promises,” Muradzikwa said.

“Those at the helm of the government don’t have the political will and are preoccupied with power retention and the primitive accumulation of personal wealth while the masses are suffering.

“In the last four years, the Zanu PF-led government has associated itself with underperformance both in theory and in practice. This, therefore, means that they have inevitably invited a wave of unpopularity as far as the upcoming harmonised elections are concerned.”

He added:“It’s foolhardy to imagine the government would attempt to achieve what they failed to do in the last five years or take initiative towards improving the country’s socio-economic and political conditions given the remaining time towards the elections.”

The CCC, which has been at the forefront of demanding electoral reforms, has decried various malpractices such as police and state media bias as well as lack of transparency by Zec electoral management among other issues.

CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said Zimbabwe was in a political crisis because of a broken social contract between the state and its citizens which required the urgent need to address its complaints against Zec.

“Elections are a constitutional imperative and remain the only way by which the will of the people can be expressed democratically,” Mahere said.

“A transparent and verifiable election is the only way for the people to rebuild trust in the state.

“Accordingly, the electoral reform agenda is urgent. Voter registration has been hampered by poor voter education and inaccessible or dysfunctional registration centres.

“The voters’ roll is plagued by irregularities.

“The secretariat of Zec is militarised and partisan.

“It continues to take orders from the “powers that be” instead of being independent.

“These issues need to be addressed to ensure we do not have another disputed election.”

Zimbabwe has a history of violent elections dating back to the era of Robert Mugabe, who ruled the country with an iron fist between 1980 and 2017 when he was toppled in coup.

Soon after independence, Mugabe deployed the North Korean trained 5th Brigade to target then opposition Zapu members, leading to the massacre of over 20 000 civilians.

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