Elections in Zimbabwe

The Mugabe regime has been rigging elections for a long time. Until 2000, those of us who participated as voters were aware of the activity but as it seemed marginal in its impact largely ignored it. In the February 2000 referendum it was estimated by specialists who witnessed the process that the vote in favour was rigged by about 15 per cent. In the subsequent parliamentary elections held in June 2000, the same group reported after the election that in its view the extent of the rigging had been about the same - 15 per cent.

If this is an accurate assessment then Zanu PF lost the referendum vote by a wide margin - 63 per cent against and 37 per cent for the Zanu PF constitutional proposals. It also meant that as the combined opposition won 52 per cent of the June vote in the parliamentary elections, that Zanu was also seriously defeated in those elections and only hung onto power by using their traditional methods of vote manipulation and the 30 seats appointed by the President.

But in the March 2002 Presidential elections Zanu knew that it had to win - at any cost. They reviewed the results of the voting on Saturday and in a panic threw caution to the wind and stuffed 800 000 ballots into boxes. Senior Police and Army personnel were drafted in to carry out this exercise. At the same time they stopped 400 000 urban voters voting by means of simple congestion at the polling stations.

In the final result Mugabe got what he wanted and needed - a majority vote, but the rigging had been so blatant that the majority of observer missions concluded that the election had not been held under reasonable conditions and the mantle of democratic legitimacy was stripped away from his regime.

The only recourse the MDC had to these manipulations of the electoral process was legal action. We took 37 of the 62 seats won by Zanu in 2000 to the Courts - 12 cases have been heard up to now (in 4 years) and MDC has won 7 and lost 5. All have been appealed and are lost in the maze at the Attorney General's office. Had this trend continued MDC would have won 22 seats and would have been able to threaten Zanu in Parliament. The 2002 presidential result was immediately challenged and only the initial phase has been completed and we are waiting for the Judge to set down his opinion. There is little or no chance of either legal action being completed - even though in constitutional terms they are regarded as "urgent".

Under normal conditions we would go back to the electorate in June 2005 to elect 120 Members of Parliament. Mugabe, under pressure from the region has brought this date back to March 2005. Looking at the frantic activity in the Registrar Generals office, I am almost certain the date will be brought back to October 2004 - 5 months from now.

Over the past two years Zanu has not been idle - they have been hard at work refining their elections strategies. They have used these strategies in several recent bi-elections and in the process have won the majority. How do they do it? It is perhaps best to look at how they intend to win the forthcoming election.

In 2002 Zimbabwe conducted a census of its population - as it has done every 10 years since independence. That exercise suggested that our population was 11,6 million. Since then we have had at least 600 000 deaths and 700 000 people have left the country for greener pastures. With births still at about 400 000 per annum and infant mortality at record levels, our national population is declining at a rate of 2 to 3 per cent a year. This puts the present population at about 11.1 million.

With so many adults outside the country it is difficult to estimate what the adult population inside Zimbabwe is at present. The traditional measure used is 45 per cent of the total - it certainly is lower than that today. But using this figure we get an estimate of total potential voters of just under 5 million. We cannot expect 100 per cent registration so we probably have something of the order of 4 million potential voters.

Our voters roll has 6 million names on it. In addition we understand they are registering thousands of fictitious people on the roll with a view to using the roll as the basis of a new delimitation exercise. From other sources we know there are now over 6,6 million people living in the cities. With 120 seats this would normally mean that 72 seats would be urban and 48 rural. In fact there are already more rural seats than urban and we understand they intend in the new delimitation exercise to reduce these still further and to dilute the urban vote by adding rural districts to traditionally urban seats.

In the rural districts they have a system of closing out the opposition - no one has any security of tenure, all are subject to the whim of local Zanu leaders. All traditional leaders are on the payroll and they have never had it so good. They are required to support the government and the ruling party or face removal from positions of authority and with it the loss of all benefits.

Government has produced a false estimate of the grain crop as a pretext for excluding the aid agencies that have been feeding up to 70 per cent of the population for the past two years. In fact the grain crop will be worse than last year and the State is right now importing maize to partly cover the shortfall. So we can expect food to be used as an electoral weapon in all food deficit areas. As alternative foods are expensive this will be an effective instrument in all rural districts and most of the urban high-density areas.

The State now controls all the media - even the remaining two independent weeklies are cowed to some extent. They control all political activity through POSA. They are seeking regulations that make it illegal to even put posters up in public places and are denying the MDC access - any access to the voters roll - for obvious reasons. Painting graffiti on a wall is now a serious offence.

Our armed forces - nearly 120 000 men and women, are fully engaged and are being used on every possible occasion. Rent a mob has nothing on this situation - a ready pool of thugs exists in all areas of the country. Arbitrary arrests and detention - on the most spurious grounds are common. Criminal assaults go unpunished with the victims being incarcerated without appeal. Activists are targeted across the board.

The elections will be held over two days and every effort will be made to ensure that the poll simply cannot be adequately supervised. NGO's are not allowed to conduct election education and poll observers will be strictly controlled. The actual poll will be managed from start to finish by Zanu PF and security officers. This will permit double voting, ballot stuffing and other forms of vote manipulation.

MDC is saying that it will participate in these elections only if these gross abuses of the system are corrected. We are demanding that the norms, which apply to elections in the SADC, be fully implemented in Zimbabwe. If they are not, then we will boycott the elections and expect foreign governments to say that they will not recognize the outcome and to say so now - so that regional governments can absorb the full implications.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th May 2004