SHORTLY after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced the disputed election results, South African President Jacob Zuma was quick off the mark to applaud President Robert Mugabe and endorse the elections.
By Guest Columnist Leon Hartwell
He sent his “profound congratulations to His Excellency President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on July 31”.
He further urged “all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.”
A peaceful election day by itself is not enough to declare it free and fair. One of the basic premises of assessing the credibility of an election is looking at the electoral process as a whole. There were many irregularities with Zimbabwe’s electoral process.
To put things into perspective, during South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, under the leadership of Madiba, (President Nelson Mandela) the ANC garnered only 62% of the vote compared to Zanu PF’s supposed 61% win in Parliament during Zimbabwe’s latest election.
The period leading up to Zimbabwe’s elections already paved the way for a dubious process. In October 2012, Mugabe assigned nine important Acts under the office of the President.
These Acts include the Commission of Inquiry Act, Emergency Powers Act, Interception of Communication Act, Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, and the Zimbabwe National Security Council Act.
Mugabe’s excuse was that “those functions have not been assigned to some other minister”, yet each act allowed Mugabe to gradually usurp more power and exploit it to Zanu PF’s advantage.
On June 13 2013, Mugabe used his Presidential powers (thereby bypassing Parliament) to amend the Electoral Act and unilaterally set the election date for six weeks later.
This is despite the fact that many outstanding issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) were unfulfilled.
Although it was unrealistic that the entire GPA would be implemented, the purpose of the agreement was to promote sustainable peace and development.
Thus, it required that some of the most important issues agreed upon by the Government of National Unity (GNU) be dealt with before Zimbabwe headed for another election.
Zimbabwe had a special vote on July 14th and 15th intended for civil servants and the security sector.
Due to major delays and irregularities on the special voting day, some observer missions and civil society organisations described it as “chaotic”.
ZEC announced that 87 000 applicants were approved to participate in the process. The full list of those approved for the process was not made public, which rightfully provoked suspicion among civil society and some political parties that some of the special voters were not eligible to vote.
Before the harmonised elections, several potential voters in urban areas complained that they struggled to register as voters.
Some Zimbabweans that have voted in previous elections also claim that they were surprised to find out that they have been de-registered to vote without their knowledge.
Once the proclamation was made on the election date, the State-owned media went into full throttle in rolling out overwhelmingly pro-Zanu PF and anti-MDC propaganda.
Compared to any other party, Mugabe’s Zanu PF received the bulk of coverage on Press briefings and campaign rallies. According to the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, most hate speech throughout the election period in Zimbabwe can be attributed to the State-owned media, and it is often attributed to Zanu PF members, including the President.
Vote-buying by Zanu PF also became rife in the run-up to the elections. In a country where, according to the Zimbabwe Statistical Office, an average person lives on $1.16 per day, the politics of the belly remains a potent tool to influence the vote.
Voter registration, as argued, has been flawed, but it is worth mentioning that the Registar-General’s Office has numerous court orders against him that relate to the failure to perform this function and allow for inspection of the voters’ roll.
Furthermore, the final voters’ roll was not made public in advance of the elections.
Currently, the MDC-T is reportedly claiming that there are 870 000 duplicate names on the voters’ roll, representing almost one sixth of the total voters on the voters’ roll.
On polling day there were reports that youths, some of whom seemingly did not look 18 (the official voting age), were bussed into MDC-T strongholds where they presented fake voter registration certificates enabling them to vote.
One such youth group was caught on film in Harare – they presumably travelled from the Honde Valley which is located at the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, situated approximately 300 kilometres from the capital.
Several polling stations were set up at the last minute and their locations were not published in advance. As a result, party agents and election observers could not be deployed in time to properly monitor the electoral process.
These polling stations were often in tents with no electricity, making it impossible to count votes under decent light.
According to ZEC own statistics, 3 480 047 Zimbabweans cast their votes during the harmonized elections.
Almost 305 000 voters were turned away (mostly in areas considered to be MDC-T strongholds) and, despite the country’s high literacy rates, another 206 000 received “assistance” from election officials.
This is serious as it represents more than 15% of votes cast.
There were also reports of stuffed ballot boxes, the extent of which remains ambiguous.
ZEC nonetheless announced some results, which were very suspicious. In the 1980s, during Gukurahundi, more than 20 000 Ndebele were massacred by Mugabe in Matabeleland.
Yet, according to ZEC, voters in Matebeleland overwhelmingly voted for Mugabe and Zanu PF, which would be the equivalent of apartheid victims voting for Hendrik Verwoerd and the National Party.
The Constitutional Court and the Electoral Court dealt with most cases related to the elections.
The former consists of the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and seven judges from the Supreme Court, while the latter is composed of the Chief Justice and several judges from the High Court.
Mugabe unilaterally appointed numerous judges shortly before the election in anticipation that some electoral issues will be legally challenged.
For example, almost before the ink was dry after signing the new Constitution at the end of May 2013, Mugabe appointed two Supreme Court judges (and by implication judges serving on the Constitutional Court).
Again on July 14, two weeks before the actual election, Mugabe appointed six new High Court judges while one judge was elevated to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe.
Given the circumstances in which these courts were stacked in favour of Zanu PF, one cannot expect them to deliver a fair judgement.
Many of the above issues are in conflict with Sadc’s own guidelines on elections.
Zuma’s rush to wish Mugabe “profound congratulations” is thus hard to come to terms with.
Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst