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Zimbabwe Elections Declared Not Free and Fair Even Before Poll Day

Failure by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to avail political parties the voters roll prior to nomination on June 14, 2018 was not only a serious breach of both the Electoral Act and the Constitution, but confirmation that the credibility of the July 30 elections is already compromised.

The build-up to the sitting of the nomination court greatly exposed ZEC’s lack of sincerity in the handling of the whole electoral process.

The various omissions and commissions that we have seen playing out in the last few weeks raise questions on whether ZEC is serious and ready to deliver free, fair and credible elections.

The law is very clear that ZEC is supposed to be an independent body, and, therefore, ought to conduct itself as such.

However, recent developments have shown that ZEC is certainly not independent.

It is more of an appendage of the government and the ruling Zanu PF party.

We have identified a number of issues that if not addressed, which is very likely to be the case, the July 30 elections may turn out to be a sham of bigger proportions than those of 2008 and 2013.

Topping the list of the issues we have identified is the lack of transparency in the procurement of materials.

That there has been neither transparency nor accountability in the procurement of materials such as ink and printing services for ballot papers is now a well-known fact.

The law is very clear that procurement of materials, like other aspects of the electoral process, must be conducted in a transparent manner.

This has not been the case so far, and ZEC has not shown any intentions of addressing this.

Why exactly does ZEC not want to take the transparent route, which is an open tender – is an issue that ZEC has failed to satisfactorily address.

ZEC seems to plead lack of time, on the one hand, and the sensitive nature of the ink and ballot papers, on the other hand.

See this link https://www.myzimbabwe.co.zw/news/23043-zec-identifies-company-that-will-supply-ballot-papers-and-ink-for-2018-elections.html .

Both arguments are disingenuous and perfidious: ZEC should have known, more than anyone else, that elections would be held before the end of August 2018 and should have set in motion their procurement processes well in time; and the sensitive nature of the ink and ballot papers are the reason why their procurement should even be more transparent than anything else.

In a way, ZEC is refusing to be subject to the law on the spurious grounds that the more critical/sensitive an electoral material is, the more opaque its procurement should be.

ZEC chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba, is on record having stated the following:

“We are in the process of being authorised by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) to do a direct purchase of those two items…The procedure is now in its last stages. These are considered security items so … we write to (PRAZ) and ask for the authority to do what is called a direct tender. It is the authority that allows us to enter into a contract with a specific company”.

See the link provided above. We are, therefore, left wondering as to the motivation behind direct procurement since ZEC is clearly being dishonest with the people of Zimbabwe.

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What is more disconcerting about the ZEC chairperson’s above statement is that it betrays her confidence that her commission’s request to PRAZ would definitely receive a favourable outcome.

On this, she can only be blamed for lack of discretion and tact, since not going to tender for ink and ballot paper procurement has always been the way ZEC conducts business and in (the now) PRAZ they always have a willing accomplice.

The issue of transparency and accountability in the procurement of electoral materials is directly linked to the question of ZEC’s independence and impartiality.

Had it been just the question of ZEC generally not doing its work properly, maybe the complaints from stakeholders would not be as loud as they are.

But the fundamental concern is that in all probability, what ZEC knows (as in the suppliers of ink and ballot printers) is also known by only one contender in the electoral game – Zanu PF – to the exclusion of others.

We feel compelled to mention the linkages of the various processes and the danger of just focusing on one of them or of looking at them separately.

For rigging to be successful, you need: (1) a discredited voters’ roll with either duplicate entries (we doubt if this could be the case with the current roll, although nothing should be left to chance) or ghost voters (John registered legitimately as John in one polling and as James in another polling station either within the same constituency or in a different constituency); (2) additional ballot papers in tandem with the inflated voters’ roll and; (3) an ink that is easily washable (a trick known only to the Johnses) so that the fact that John/James has already cast his vote in another polling station becomes difficult to establish since there won’t be any sign of ink on any of his fingers.

But of course you would also need a partial and deceitful electoral management body to facilitate all these.

The above rigging mechanisms are not the only ones that everyone should be on the lookout for.

Opposition political parties and civil society organisations have pointed out a number of others and we need not repeat them here.

The window of opportunity to make the 2018 elections free and fair has unfortunately closed.

As has been the case in previous elections, on the eve of the sitting of the nomination courts, political parties and other stakeholders had still not accessed a copy of the voters’ roll, and there had been no indications from ZEC on whether or when this would happen.

When the biometric voter registration (BVR) system was introduced, we were informed that it would help address previous concerns around the voters’ roll, but this does not seem to be the case.

We are still stuck in the past, where we were before BVR.

This year Zimbabwe had a great opportunity to correct the wrongs of previous years, but it appears in some cases things are getting worse.

We urge the ZEC to stop taking citizens for granted, and play its role in an independent and non-partisan manner.

Unfortunately, whatever positive thing ZEC does now going forward (and they do not seem to have any inclination to do so) will not mitigate the harm they have already caused.

If the opposition manages to win the 2018 elections, they would have done so in spite of the rigging, not because ZEC would have played the role of a fair referee.

-ZIMBABWE ELECTION WATCH 2018

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Written by How Africa

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