Democracy Watch

The MDC National Executive spent the whole weekend debating whether or not to lift its suspension of participation in any elections in Zimbabwe. The debate raged and strong feelings were expressed on both sides but in the end we decided to maintain the suspension until we were more fully aware of just what the Zanu PF led government was doing - even at this late stage, only 90 days at most from the date of the next election. We meet again within the next 30 days to review this decision.

When we met in August, just after the Mauritius meeting at which Mugabe put his signature on the SADC Protocols for elections in the SADC region, we again spent the whole weekend, debating the situation and the way forward. We examined the conditions for elections in Zimbabwe and what the State had said about reform and concluded that under these circumstances we could not justify participation. Now remember, for the MDC elections are the only way forward. We have consistently and firmly rejected the idea of confrontation and the use of force in any form. We have not requested economic sanctions, we have not suggested armed intervention by external forces, we have simply demanded that the Zanu PF allow the people to vote freely, in an informed manner and on the basis that their vote is secret and will be respected.

What we have asked our neighbors to do is to demand that Mugabe live up to the SADC Protocols in the way the electoral system is managed in Zimbabwe. This past week Mbeki and the Chairman of SADC, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, said they were coming to Harare to see Mugabe and Tsvangirai about compliance and the progress made so far. Mugabe promptly invented an excuse and flew to Pretoria himself - an obvious effort to preempt the proposed meeting with the MDC in Harare. It is ironical that every time Smith wanted to see the South African President - he went to watch rugby. Mugabe goes to weddings! We have asked the SADC to send a team of electoral experts to Zimbabwe to investigate our compliance to the SADC norms and report formally to the SADC leaders. This was the issue at stake this weekend on the SADC front.

What about the situation here in Zimbabwe? Has Mugabe made any meaningful concessions in recent weeks as they claim? Lets look at what they have done.

1. They have allowed the MDC access to the most recent voters roll. This was after two years when the MDC went to court to demand the roll that was used in 2002 for the presidential elections and the consistent refusal by the government to allow us access. They have the whole roll - nearly 6 million names and addresses in electronic form and we asked for this, as it would then be easy for the MDC to analyze the roll. But no - we have to buy the thing in hard copy - the pile almost reaches to ceiling and then input the data into our own computers at great cost and effort. It will take us a long time to get the roll onto our own discs, something the State could have done in minutes and at virtually no cost.

2. They have agreed to a number of reforms in the way the elections will be held - voting will be in one day, there will be no mobile stations and translucent boxes will be used. Counting of the vote will be at each polling station immediately after voting closes. This is all well and good but it is expected that this will raise the number of polling stations to something like 12000 sites and this makes the task of administration much more difficult. In previous elections we had 4500 fixed polling stations and about 1100 mobile stations with 120 counting centers. MDC had to deploy about 30 000 electoral officers to supervise the poll and teams to each mobile station with vehicles to ensure that the system was not abused. In this next election the task of supervision has now been multiplied three times in terms of supervision at polling stations and nearly 100 times in terms of the control of counting.

In the two previous elections the task of voter education, poll monitor training and deployment, was shared between the MDC and several NGO's who provided much of the financing and expertise. All of these NGO's are now expected to have to close down their operations and this avenue of support for the electoral system will be unavailable this time round. Zanu knows that and they are fully aware of the implications - hundreds of rural polling stations without MDC or civil society monitors at which they can do what ever is necessary to ensure a massive victory for Zanu PF.

Zanu has announced that only "friendly" countries will be allowed to monitor the elections. We all know what that means and apart from a few diplomatic teams and perhaps some clandestine presence the poll will go unobserved in any serious way. In any event, what can 100 foreign observers with limited resources do in an election spread over thousands of square miles and at 12000 voting stations?

On the ground it is business as usual - POSA is used to control all MDC activities, even small constituency committee meetings to plan activities in local areas. AIPPA is used to control the media - astonishing to know that Morgan Tsvangirai is one of the best known opposition politicians in the world and he has not been seen or heard on radio or TV in Zimbabwe for the past two years. All references to the MDC and its leadership and policies are simply propaganda cleared through the offices of Zanu PF. The State controlled media will not even accept paid advertisements.

Violence and intimidation is a daily occurrence - and we have not even agreed to participate in the election! The use of arrest and detention powers is so widespread that they hardly merit a press release. MDC is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lawyers and bail costs when it can hardly pay its own staff at the end of each month. Almost all key legal actions mounted by the MDC related to the situation are in limbo - held up simply by Judges sitting on their judgments or simply being remanded from month to month. There has still not been a single prosecution of the persons responsible for over 400 political murders of MDC activists in the past 4 years.

Now in the past three weeks we have seen a budget passed for the elections of a massive Z$300 billion dollars plus, the budget for the CIO increased 5 fold to a billion dollars a day! What for - just to ensure that the State has the resources required to manage and manipulate the forthcoming elections. And even then - we have yet to be told what the electoral boundaries will be in the election and the actual date of the election itself. Even after all that Mugabe still appoints directly 20 per cent of all seats in the house without a vote being cast!

We have firm evidence that a consistent campaign to intimidate traditional leaders and rural structures of the MDC is underway. In my own constituency in recent weeks, the CIO has visited every traditional leader. They were told to create a list of all the adults in their villages. They were also told that if their people supported the MDC in any way - they would lose their positions and their State allowances. The two Chiefs have been given vehicles and substantial tax fee allowances. The people are being forced to attend Zanu PF rallies and meetings. Non-attendance attracts "fines". People are told - "vote for MDC and you will starve, vote for MDC and you will be kicked out of the community." Both are life or death issues in this area of the country where there are no private property rights left and no food is available except through the aid agencies or the retail stores.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 22 December 2004