South Africa

Zimbabwe elections called a ‘sham’

Despite the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) having, for the first time, expressed unhappiness with the Zimbabwean elections over the weekend, the ruling Zanu-PF party on Sunday shrugged off the criticism.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was pronounced the winner in closely contested polls and maintained his country was “a sovereign state”.

SADC observer mission head, former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba, pointed to coercion, intimidation, the arrest of 41 election monitors, delays in counting and irregularities.

And Lwazi Somya, senior researcher with the Southern African Liaison Office – an independent governance think-tank, which has been closely observing the elections – described the polls as having been “rigged ahead of people even putting their X on the ballot paper”.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission confirmed Mnangagwa’s re-election for another five-year term, with 52.6% votes against 44% garnered by Nelson Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), which marked Zanu-PF’s unbroken grip in power for the past 43 years after the country gained independence in 1980.

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Maintaining that the polls were rigged, Somya said: “From the creation of the Patriotic Bill to gerrymandering in the form of the Delimitations Bill, what we have seen in Zimbabwe is the orchestration of a rigged election ahead of even the arrival of observers, with the results bearing testimony to that.”

Amnesty International called the Patriotic Bill “a grave attack on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association”. The Bill criminalises participation in meetings where sanctions and military interventions are considered or planning to subvert, upset, overthrow and overtake a constitutionally elected government, it said.

According to Somya, the emergence of the Zanu-affiliated group Forever Associate Zimbabwe (FAZ) – said to have intimidated the electorate with its actions defended by the ruling party – “clearly shows linkages or at least tacit support of voter suppression by the Zanu-PF elite”.

“The media, in the form the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, has been a sticking point, with election observer missions highlighting its biased nature.

“These elections were a sham and did very little in legitimising the leadership of Zanu-PF among citizens and the region.

“In its reflection, the SADC elections observer mission correctly painted a disturbing picture of the overall electoral experience.

“The mission was confronted with challenges such as the antagonistic approach by the Zanu-PF national spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa,” said Somya. “However, the region stood firm behind their envoy.”

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He said there were several avenues the opposition could take after the elections. “Going forward, the opposition in Zimbabwe will have to put up a more united front – including working on building regional solidarity with their cause.

“Ultimately, the people of Zimbabwe and the region are listening to their cries against the injustice meted out against them.

“However, it will be up to the leadership of CCC to make decisions on those avenues,” said Somya.

Respected Zimbabwean academic Ibbo Mandaza said: “This has been another most depressing, if not a cynical, feature about elections in Zimbabwe. It is about the extent to which elections are so brazenly stolen and the voters rendered more useless statistics.

“This is deplorable and depressing.”

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While Chamisa rejected the poll’s outcome, Zanu-PF’s Mutsvangwa congratulated Mnangagwa for securing a second term in office. He said Mnangagwa “ran an arduous campaign in a do-or-die encounter against those who wished for a regime change in Zimbabwe”.

“This thing of people going to elections, saying results are not right if they do not win, is wrong.

“It means you are usurping the decision of the voters who are putting their Xs on the ballot.

“You come with a predetermined position that people must vote for you,” said Mutsvangwa. “When the results come and most people have not voted for you, you cannot accept the results.

“You do not go into a match and if you do not win, you declare the match null and void – something not good for democracy.

“We take comfort that we have legal systems in place, giving recourse to anyone who may have misgivings about the elections.”

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