How to Rig an Election in front of the Watching World

I am sure that many have asked this question. We talk so glibly about "rigging" an election and about electoral fraud (often the same thing - but not always) and I thought that to assist those who
(a) want to understand the term and
(b) those who want to learn from Zanu PF experience, it might be useful to explain how it is done.

First you have to hold an election - this is important, if for no other reason than as a backdrop. Then you have to work out how to get the result you want to secure. Deciding how many seats you need to hold after the election will determine just how much you have to do to get there.

The Zanu PF objective this time round was quite simple - they are holding an election - three months early to demonstrate their enthusiasm for democracy, they want a two thirds majority - that is 101 seats in a 150 seat Parliament. This means that with 30 seats appointed by the President (Mugabe) they need to win 71 seats at the very least. That is half the seats in Parliament but 63 per cent of the seats being contested (120 seats). To do this they have to limit the MDC and others to winning only 44 seats.

When they planned this whole scam more than a year ago, they had assumed the MDC would not have the capacity to fight more than 80 seats - so they assumed in their early scenarios that they would have 70 seats in the bag before they fired a shot - the 30 appointed seats plus the 40 uncontested seats which they would win by default.

So they needed to win only 31 seats in open contest to secure their two-thirds majority. Why two thirds? Because during the life of the next Parliament they want to change the constitution so that Mugabe can appoint a successor and do other things to entrench the effective "one party state" that has been a Zanu PF goal from day one.

They then decided to ease up a bit on the conditions for the election itself - vote in one-day, translucent boxes, no mobiles and visible ink. In addition they planned to allow more press freedom and to permit the Daily News back on the streets 5 weeks ahead of the election. All cosmetic changes but designed to strengthen the impression that Zanu was trying to reform its ways.

This liberal approach was possible because they were supremely confident that they could control the election outcome. So confident that in August 2004 the Politburo discussed how many seats to allow the MDC to win - 15 or 20 seats, was the debate.

Now comes the hard part. To win they have to be able to either control how people vote or to stuff false ballot papers in the ballot boxes before counting takes place. In 2002 they had a rather crude mechanism - asses the way things were going on Saturday night then order the required number of false ballots to be flown to remote polling stations where they were then introduced to the count. By our estimates this involved 800 000 ballots in an election which involved 2,4 million voters. In addition they were forced to actually stop people voting in the main cities for fear that even this massive number of ballots would not be enough to overcome the MDC majority.

This time round it is a Parliamentary election so they have to win seats - not simply a national majority. So they started early - first rule - manipulate the delimitation exercise.

We have over 60 per cent of our population living in the Cities; in fact the rural population is declining fast due to high rates of mortality and emigration. So we reduce the number of urban seats to 33 per cent of the total and increase the rural seats to two thirds. Then we take some of the urban seats and include some rural areas into them - especially areas that have been resettled by people who are dependent on Zanu PF patronage to hold onto their land or occupation rights. It is assumed that Zanu can "control" these votes.

The second rule - "fix" the voters roll. Not difficult where a civil servant who openly says he is Mugabe's man, controls the whole thing. So you link the Zanu PF membership files to the voters roll resulting in any Zanu PF stalwarts becoming registered voters automatically. Then you concentrate the whole effort to enlist new voters on the populations you think you can control - rural peasants, resettlement farmers, gold panners and informal traders. People with no independence from the succor and support of the Zanu PF State. Then you deny all those you know are pro MDC as far as is possible - all migrants, whites, urban workers. On any pretext - your mother was Malawian? You are taken off the roll.

Allow a build up of the dead and displaced on the roll so that you have plenty of room for the number of false ballots you want to use. It embarrassed Zanu PF when in 2002 there were more votes cast in some Zanu strongholds than there were registered voters - a bit obvious! So we now have a voters roll with over 40 per cent dead and displaced people on it - people who will certainly not be able to vote in person and therefore can "vote in absentia".

Once you have done all this preparatory work, then all that remains is to fix the vote on the day. Threats and intimidation may not be enough so they have to bring in their third rule and plan for the introduction of thousands of false ballots to the count.

This time they have done the following - they have forced all the members of the armed forces to vote under supervision. This gives them 120 000 votes which they can then direct to the constituencies they target. Then they print up to 2 million ballot papers for the use of the team that is controlling the voting. They have doubled the number of polling stations to 8300 and concentrated these in rural constituencies where they have three times the number of polling stations that are located in the urban constituencies.

They then arrange for each of these polling stations to have communications - very important. So the PTC has installed telephones in all stations where a service is possible and where this is not possible, Police and Military radios are being provided. Then they put the military in charge of these polling stations and change the Electoral Act to make this legal. Now they can monitor the way voting is going across the country hour by hour. They can prelocate false ballots in target areas and at targeted polling stations. During the day or even later, they can then give instruction to the people in charge as to how many ballots are to be used. To be credible there must not be any serious distortions and the total number of votes cast must not exceed to number of registered voters.

To achieve this the MDC and other parties must be unable to cover all polling stations and to this end they have made it very difficult to supervise the count and limited international observers to a handful who will unable to observe more than a small fraction of the polling stations.

Now you are ready for a "democratic election" in Zimbabwe. This time round their plans have gone awry in many respects - MDC is fighting all 120 seats, we have put tens of thousands of Election Agents into the field and we are trying to overcome the communications shortfall. Even with all these elaborate preparations they might still come unstuck. I am sure they are doomed to again be denied their two thirds and it is just possible that they will be swamped by a tide of popular anger and revolt. They know this and that is why they have tightened up on planned liberalization of the process - no Daily News and jamming SW Radio are just two examples.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 24th March 2005