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Political Reforms can UNITE Zimbabwe

24 May 2019 at 08:03hrs | Views
President Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF always complain that the main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and MDC Alliance are cry-babies who never accept electoral defeat and hence they are holding the country back through spreading negativity and inviting sanctions to Zimbabwe. These sentiments have gained new currency with a recent video showing South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema congratulating President Cyril Ramaphosa and his African National Congress (ANC) for winning the recently held election in South Africa. Critics have drawn comparisons between the magnanimous attitude of Julius Malema and Nelson Chamisa's kudira jecha response to his loss in the July 2018 election.

However; we argue that the political context in which elections are held in Zimbabwe and South Africa are extremely different and if Malema was an opposition leader in Zimbabwe he could be doing worse than what Nelson Chamisa is doing whilst Chamisa could have done what Malema did to Ramaphosa and ANC. The opposition can only be loyal and unite in the national discourse if the electoral process is transparent, free and fair. Nevertheless, the recent elections held in South Africa earlier this month showed that Africa can indeed hold transparent, free and fair elections. The Independent Elections Commission of South Africa (IEC) was transparent and had the confidence of all stakeholders especially the opposition parties.

Infact, the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) can learn from the Independent Elections Commission of South Africa (IEC) that when there is transparency with all stakeholders, the election outcome will not be disputed. The 2018 Zimbabwe election was disputed because the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) chose to be opaque with its systems which resulted in key stakeholders not having confidence in election outcome. The first challenge was registration of the voters under the Biometric system which lacked transparency. The exercise was carried out by officials drawn from the partisan security sector and public service. The opposition was not consulted on how the officials were to be selected. Hundreds of Central Intelligence operatives were posted throughout the country to register voters.

Verification of Results

The key point in the recent elections in South Africa was that stakeholders especially the opposition parties were given unfettered access to the election process. The Opposition was given access to verify election results by inspecting and tallying votes at Polling Station, Ward, District, Provincial and National level without hindrance from Independent Elections Commission of South Africa (IEC).

But in the case of Zimbabwe's 2018 general election, the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) was actually an obstacle to the holding of transparent, free and fair elections. In fact, ZEC refused the opposition access at the Harare National Command Centre to verify and inspect tallying of votes coming from Polling stations, Ward, District, Provincial and National levels. After initially agreeing to the Oppositions inspection demands, ZEC just announced results without consultation with other stakeholders resulting in a disputed outcome.

Real Time Results

The Independent Elections Commission of South Africa (IEC) further enhanced openness and transparency by timeously publishing election results in real time on electronic boards at the National Centre from Ward, District, Provincial and National level. And further in-depth election results were published on the IEC website where you could drill down results to polling station, Town or City.

However, in the Zimbabwe 2018 election, ZEC was opaque and inexplicably delayed announcing results that were already posted outside polling stations resulting in a loss of confidence in the election process. ZEC also chose to announce results at provincial and national level without corresponding figures at Polling station, Ward and District levels.

The delay in announcing results in real time and not announcing results from original sources like polling stations resulted in the loss of confidence in the Zimbabwe Election process because it left a huge opening for manipulation of the election outcome. But the openness and transparency by Independent Elections Commission of South Africa (IEC) left no room for suspicions of underhand tactics and thus the South African election process was given a thumbs up by all stakeholders.

Another huge scandal took place few weeks after the official results had been declared when the ZEC Chairperson Justice Chigumba announced that the first presidential results she had announced were erroneous. She went on to reduce Emmerson Mnangagwa's win by 4453 votes, from 50.8% to 50.6% whilst increasing Nelson Chamisa's votes by 4483 or from 43.3% to 43.39%. This happened when Chigumba was responding to Chamisa's court challenge. Had there been no court challenge the erroneous result would have stood.

Media Election Coverage

In the lead up to election day, all political parties were given space and time by the national broadcaster SABC to advertise and articulate their polices on both radio and television. Main opposition parties like DA and EFF had their political rallies streamed live by the national broadcaster. There were also several live debates where academics, independent analysts and politicians gave their views on the elections. They differed in opinions and preferences.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe opposition parties were either not given time by the national broadcaster ZBC or the advertising rates were too expensive. Moreover, the national broad caster was utilised as a propaganda tool for the ruling party while it lambasted all opposition parties, especially the main opposition MDC Alliance. There is no evidence suggesting that ZANU-PF pays for airtime on ZBC TV and Radio advertisements.

Political Environment

In the six months to election day, the South African election season was a political market of competing ideas epitomised by rallies, party regalia and posters on billboards & buildings.  However, in Zimbabwe, although on the surface it seemed as if democracy was in action but in rural areas Zanu-PF was using covert underhand tactics of intimidation, fear and vote buying.

Patriotic Opposition

In conclusion, it does not matter that the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court upheld the 2018 election but that ZEC's opaqueness in the verification of election results and suspicious delay in announcing results caused most stakeholders to lose confidence in the election process. Furthermore, the unfair media coverage by the national broadcaster and uneven political field contributed to the loss of confidence in the broadcaster. Access to information is a critical tenet of democracy.

And yet in Zimbabwe not only has ZANU-PF captured the public media, they are also working hard to capture the private media too. A fair playing field breeds patriotic politicians who are expected to be gracious in defeat. However, an uneven playing field gives room to bitterly contested election outcomes.

Therefore; President Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF cannot complain that the main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and MDC Alliance are not a patriotic opposition party like the EFF led by Julius Malema because the Zimbabwe election process is not free and fair. The MDC Alliance can only unite in the national discourse if elections are held in a transparent, free and fair manner like in South Africa.

Thus; in the end, only genuine political reforms can UNITE Zimbabweans and ensure the nation can quickly heal and move forward after a big election as has happened in South Africa.

Darlington Nyambiya is the President of the Local Solutions Council, Executive Chairman of The Solutions Tower, Human Rights Defender and Pro-democracy Activist. And Farai Maguwu is the Director for Center for Natural Resources Governance and a Human Rights Defender.

Source - Darlington Nyambiya And Farai Maguwu
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