Primaries heighten Zimbabwe poll rigging fears

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ZANU PF has been desperate to portray itself as a party on the ascendancy ahead of the make-or-break harmonised elections and it’s recently-concluded chaotic primary elections presented the perfect stage.

REPORT BY NQOBANI NDLOVU.

State media went to town about the large voter turnout in the primaries where some candidates won with huge margins and drew comparisons with MDC-T primaries.

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia, amassed over 17 000 votes in the Kwekwe-Chirumanzu poll, leaving some pro-Zanu PF pundits predicting a landslide victory for the party which lost its parliamentary majority to the MDC formations for the first time in 2008.

Similar celebrations erupted after the referendum on the new Constitution after the State media and Zanu PF strategists claimed the highest voter turnout was in the faction-riddled party’s strongholds.

According to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission figures 3 079 966 people voted during the referendum that was seen as a dress rehearsal for the polls that might be held on July 31.

Zanu PF believes the referendum and primary election figures coupled with surveys by international pollsters have given it a head-start.

So confident was the party, it printed over two million ballots for its Midlands primaries. The country has about six million voters.

War veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, who embarked on a countrywide mobilisation campaign soon after Zanu PF’s defeat in the 2008 elections claimed the party had gained millions of supporters since then.

“President (Robert) Mugabe will get millions of votes in the upcoming elections,” he said.

“The people have realised that it is only Mugabe who can take the country forward, that it is only Mugabe who can address their problems, that it is only Mugabe who has the country and their interests at heart.”

Sibanda claimed the high Zanu PF voter turnout in the primaries was a result of his campaigns, which the MDC-T said were characterised by violence and intimidation.

However, the MDC formations say they will not lose any sleep over the figures, dismissing them as propaganda to psychologically prepare Zimbabweans for vote rigging.

Nhlanhla Dube, the MDC spokesperson said Zanu PF wanted “to deceive the masses and rig the upcoming elections” basing from the high figures which he said were fake.

“They are not a reflection of the true Zanu PF support base,” he said.

“It is a huge public relations attempt aimed at mass deception that Zanu PF still has the power to command huge numbers.

“It is an attempt to prepare Zimbabweans psychologically ahead of the elections.

“All Zimbabweans voted ‘Yes,’ during the referendum, but were never posting such figures of 17 000 in their constituencies. It’s just propaganda.”

Zanu PF losing candidates have also raised allegations of vote rigging and other electoral irregularities during the party’s primaries.

The primaries saw bond paper and exercise books being used as ballot papers while buckets and cardboard boxes and sacks were used as ballot boxes.

The voting was also open to anyone with an identity (ID) card even if they were not registered voters. MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora echoed Dube’s sentiments saying the primary election figures were inflated.

“The figures don’t represent the party’s support base and are only aimed at creating a template for rigging,” he said.

But Bulawayo-based political analyst Effie Ncube urged caution saying it would be suicidal to dismiss the figures at face value.

“There are two sides to that. Firstly, all political actors must avoid putting a spin to those figures and dismiss them,” he said, “They might be real and genuinely indicating that Zanu PF support has grown.

“All that the parties should do is to accept the figures as genuine and if they are genuine it does not mean that other parties do not have the same figures or more.

“Secondly, the figures may be fraudulent and designed to portray a Zanu PF that is rejuvenated and well supported by the people of Zimbabwe.

“Zanu PF might be dry running the rigging system to then say well, we already have such support even in the primaries,” Ncube added.

Over the years, Zanu PF has been accused of using the Registrar-General’s Office to rig polls in its favour. In 2008, there was uproar after presidential election results were withheld by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commision after Mugabe lost to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of the polls.

Tsvangirai was forced to withdraw from the presidential runoff election citing violence against his supporters. Again there were accusations that the figures for people who turned out to vote for Mugabe – a lone candidate – were inflated.