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The problem is the electoral playing field

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Kubatana regularly receives quality contributions which we often publish as opinion on our web site. Dewa Mavhinga, a researcher for the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum in London, shares his thoughts with us (below) on Zimbabwe’s forthcoming elections and reaffirms what we all know: the problem is the electoral playing field!

It is interesting to note how the candidacy of Simba Makoni as an independent in Zimbabwe’s presidential elections has triggered a flurry of comments and emotion. It has been seen as a beacon of hope, a reason to vote in the 29 March elections. The challenge is that Simba Makoni’s candidacy does not alter the unequal electoral playing field. Zimbabwe has not embraced standards and principles that enable the country to run a credible, free and fair election. The country’s voters’ roll is in a shambles, constitutional amendment 18 introduced 90 more constituencies whose boundaries people know little of. Democratic space has all but disappeared, airwaves are still a monopoly of the ruling Zanu PF party, Zimbabwe still does not have an independent daily paper and it is common knowledge that food distribution is on partisan lines.

It is not as if Morgan Tsvangirai failed to defeat Mugabe in the 2002 elections, what happened is that the election was stolen by Zanu Pf through its manipulation of state machinery. Therefore, Simba Makoni may very well be a darling of voters but that is not enough. In Zimbabwe it is not the vote that matters, but the counting and he who controls state machinery determines the outcome of any election. Focus for us Zimbabweans should not be on the candidates as such, but on whether or not an election in Zimbabwe at present is capable of reflecting the wishes of the people and whether or not the Zimbabwe election complies with minimum SADC standards and guidelines for the conduct of free and fair elections. Civil society in Zimbabwe should continue to demand respect for human rights and the opening up of airwaves and fundamental reforms in key governance and electoral institutions. For instance, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) must be revamped and be made totally independent, the Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede must not have anything to do with the running of elections and all candidates and political formations must have unfettered access to the electorate.

Without adequate reforms in Zimbabwe’s electoral process it would be difficult for Zimbabwe to avoid the Kenya route. As long as Zanu PF has a monopoly of access to State TV, Radio and newspapers, and as long as Zanu PF denies opposition and independent candidates access to all corners of Zimbabwe, then the outcome of March 2008 elections is already known. The significance of Simba Makoni’s breakaway from Zanu PF is that, in the likely event that Zanu PF rigs elections and claims victory in March 2008, Makoni will hopefully group together with disgruntled elements in Zanu PF and with opposition forces, to challenge Mugabe and insist on a level playing field. Makoni may also be able to persuade South Africa to call a spade a spade and condemn electoral theft by Zanu PF.

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