Electoral reforms should be bedrock of 2018 vote

A FREE and fair election is a plebiscite that produces a result that is acceptable to both the victor and the defeated; a result that is legitimate and beyond contestation. Since the year 2000, Zimbabwe has been under the spotlight for holding highly contestable and controversial elections in which the result has almost invariably been challenged and contested. This state of affairs has marred our electoral history and left our political architecture bruised and battered.

As we approach the harmonised elections to be held in 2018, we should always bear in mind that Zimbabwe’s political stability and socio-economic development hinges upon the holding of a plebiscite that will be free and fair; a plebiscite that will easily pass the test of legitimacy.

In the unfortunate event that the 2018 elections are neither free nor fair, what it essentially means is that the Zimbabwean political and socio – economic crisis will escalate. Thus, it is imperative for the country to make sure that next year’s elections are, at the very least, free and fair.

The current situation is depressing and unfortunately, it doesn’t bode well for the holding of free and fair elections in 2018. Contrary to the constitutional requirement, the State-controlled print and electronic media is virtually a no-go area for most, if not all, opposition political parties. The Zanu PF government maintains a vice like grip on both ZBC TV & Radio as well Zimpapers.

Listening to ZBC TV Newshour every day is just like listening to a Zanu PF election manifesto being read out. There is a near-total black out on the activities of opposition political parties unless, for some reason, there is something apparently negative to report concerning the political opposition.

The saddening thing is that it doesn’t appear like any meaningful media reforms will take place before the holding of next year’s elections. Even the two national so-called private radio stations appear to be in competition with ZBC when it comes to churning out Zanu PF propaganda; particularly in their news bulletins.

The situation in rural areas is even more depressing. Chiefs and other traditional leaders have now been incorporated into the Zanu PF commissariat department and they are effectively operating as political party activists in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The recent by – election in Mwenezi clearly proved that traditional leaders are now de facto operatives of the ruling party’s structures.

This, of course, will severely militate against the holding of a free and fair election next year. Villagers are being ring – fenced and commandeered by their traditional leaders to ensure that they vote in a particular manner during any election. Opposition political parties’ activities in rural areas have been severely curtailed because villagers are routinely intimidated from attending any opposition political party functions.

Part of the electoral reforms that are being legitimately demanded by the opposition will ensure that chiefs and other traditional leaders do not operate as political activists in their areas of jurisdiction. Put differently, traditional leaders should be totally and wholly apolitical.

Another bone of contention is the issue of vote buying and the use of food aid as an electioneering tool. Most villagers are poverty stricken and as such, they are desperate for support from both government and non – governmental organisations. It is not uncommon for ruling party politicians to use food aid as a campaign gimmick; particularly in impoverished rural areas.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) should wake up and smell the coffee. Right now, there is hullabaloo about the acquisition of biometric voter registration kits but we witness that ZEC continues to duck and dive. They don’t seem to be in control of the process.

Indeed, it appears that some shadowy forces behind the scenes at Munhumutapa and Chaminuka buildings have virtually taken over the process of acquiring these BVR kits. ZEC is coming across as just a weak, severely compromised and lame duck electoral management body. Can ZEC really be trusted to run a free and fair election in 2018?

Zimbabwe is at the crossroads and surely, we can ill – afford another contested and controversial electoral process in 2018.It’s high time that Zimbabwe turns the corner. The people have suffered and endured many years of political instability and unprecedented economic stagnation and retrogression.

Obert Gutu is the MDC-T national spokesperson and he is also a Harare lawyer. He writes this opinion piece in his personal capacity.

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