Zimbabwe elections

Tendai Biti breathes fire over ‘rigged’ poll, warns of protest

Archive Photo: Tendai Biti, former Zimbabwean finance minister, speaking at The Gathering in Johannesburg in December 2017. Photo: Daniel Born

Zimbabwe’s firebrand opposition leader Tendai Biti says he is sure the MDC Alliance, which he is part of, will win the country’s decisive presidential and parliamentary elections on Monday – despite Zanu-PF’s best efforts to rig it.

If Zanu-PF and its leader, President Emmerson Mnangagwa do “steal” the elections on Monday, Tendai Biti and the MDC Alliance will make the country “ungovernable”.

This is the comment from Biti, the leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, one of seven parties contesting the elections under the banner of the MDC Alliance.

The MDC Alliance’s presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa has been accused by Zanu-PF of inciting violence because of the same sort of threat. But Biti, in an interview with Daily Maverick, denied that the opposition grouping was planning to initiate violence. He said it in the event that it lost the election, the alliance merely planned to exercise its constitutional right to peaceful resistance.

Biti is quite sure that the political playing field is tilted steeply against the MDC. For starters: “We’ve got a totally toxic election management body run by a totally erratic if not incompetent chairperson,” he said, referring to Priscilla Chigumba, the highly controversial chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) which is officially running the elections.

For example, we don’t have access to the voters roll, in analysable form. I have a letter from the ZEC through my lawyer which says ‘you can analyse it on voting day’. Can you believe that? Yet Zanu-PF has had access to the data base for a while. They have been sending texts and emails to their voters. There is total collusion between the ZEC and Zanu-PF. Quite clearly ZEC is not running the election.”

He said the voters roll which he said appeared to be a merger of the 2013 voters roll – to which the MDC had still not had access- with the current one. Neither had been audited. Independent auditors have attempted an analysis of the roll and have identified about 250,000 suspect names on it, noting many voters well over the age of 100 and other anomalies such as people with identical names and identity numbers that are also identical, save for one digit.

And then there are the shenanigans around the printing of the ballot papers,” he said, referring to complaints from the MDC that the ZEC had been secretive about how the ballots had been printed. “If they have nothing to hide on the ballots papers, they should show us the state of the ballots. There is evidence all over Africa of tampering with ballots, through chromatography which allows markers to shift. It sounds like wild allegations. If so, they should demonstrate that. In 2013 I saw ballots ticked as if with a giant machine.”

Chromatography is a technique for chemically altering images on paper and the MDC clearly suspects it will be used to boost Zanu-PF’s votes.

Then he referred to another controversy about the template of the ballots and the positioning of the names of candidates. Under the electoral act the candidates names are supposed to be listed alphabetically. But that would have meant that Zanu-PF’s presidential candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa would have appeared 15th on the list of 23 presidential candidates – with Chamisa at the top. And so ZEC turned the presidential ballot into a two-page document – with Mnangagwa conveniently appearing at the top of page 2.

In South Africa they have a very long ballot paper to ensure names are kept properly in alphabetical order,” Biti noted. 

And Biti also said postal votes were “even now taking place without ZEC even being there which is in blatant contempt of the Electoral Act”. Recently policemen in Ross camp reported to the MDC that they had been forced to make their crosses under the watchful eyes of their senior officers. 

Meanwhile, Zanu-PF thugs were appearing more frequently in villages, intimidating opposition voters. 

He also insisted that the MDC Alliance was getting “no access” to the public media, while Zanu-PF rallies were regularly being broadcast live.

And we are using jalopies to get around the country for campaigning while Mnangagwa is using state vehicles and helicopters. This is not an election but a charade.”

Though he didn’t mention it this time, another recent controversy erupted when ZEC announced it would be turning around ballot booths – which normally face the walls – ostensibly so that ZEC officials could check that voters were not taking photographs of their completed ballots. The opposition naturally fears this measure is really intended to compromise the secrecy of the ballot – or at least to scare voters into thinking their votes are not secret. 

And the ZEC has not yet clarified rules on vote counting, while the working of the computers that will tally reports from the field remain a mystery. The suspicions about these in Zimbabwe have been fuelled by the experience in Kenya’s elections last year, when the High Court annulled an observer-endorsed vote after it was found the election’s had been computers were hacked.

Without all these obstacles, in a free and fair election, Chamisa and the MDC Alliancewould win by landslide, some 75%, Biti said. But since he himself doesn’t think it’s going to be free and fair, what then?

Even then he insists his side will win.

In part, that statement seems to be an expression of pure faith which emerges when Biti says:“We can’t betray all the millions of people who attended our rallies.” In the same vein, he adds: “We are tired of voting without electing,” and believes this time at last victory will not elude them.

But he also insists: “We can’t lose because Mnangagwa is ‘unelectable’. He doesn’t have Mugabe’s charisma …. He is colourless, unimpressive, dull and uncharismatic,” he says.

He can’t even count,” he adds, saying Mnangagwa recently added 10 and four and got 40.

The coup dismembered Zanu-PF and the cohesion it had under Mugabe is not there now. That’s why they’re trying to make policemen vote inside the system,” he added referring to that recent controversy of the postal voting in Ross police camp.

The fact that police officers had called the MDC for help in this incident he sees as one of many signs that the solid support for Zanu-PF by the security forces under Mugabe is also now disintegrating. 

He also endorses a wider view that Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF will do badly in the three Mashonaland provinces which are considered to be strongholds of die-hard Mugabe supporters (in part because of ethnic clan allegiances) “Their party, the NPF,(National Patriotic Front) will have a strong showing there,” he says.

There are also indications that Mugabe himself is “decampaigning” Zanu-PF out of resentment for being toppled last year.

He also predicted that the MDC Alliance would do well in the simultaneous parliamentary elections. “We will be the dominant party” he said, “with more than 50% of the vote.”

Biti also insisted that he was not worried that the military would reject a victory by Chamisa. Before the 2002 presidential elections which were essentially a two-horse race between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, Constantino Chiwenga, then the chief of staff of the Zimbabwe Defence Force, bluntly warned that the military would not salute any president who had not fought in the liberation war. Mugabe had but Tsvangirai hadn’t so the military’s position was clear.

Many observers have expressed fears that the military has not changed that stance. The top brass have not publicly declared they will respect the outcome of the elections, whoever wins. And some have hinted otherwise.

But Biti said that Zimbabwe had changed a lot since 2002. Most of the military were “decent and suffering people” he said, living in harsh conditions in poor neighbourhoods, and tired of the misgovernance of the country which had placed them in that position.

He said Chiwenga, now vice-president and Sibusiso Moyo, the former military spokesman who was prominent in the coup and is now Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, might reject a Chamisa-MDC victory, but the military as a whole would accept it. “There will be a peaceful transfer of power in this country,” he insisted.

But if they do steal the election, we will make the country ungovernable,” Biti declared. Because of this warning, Chamisa and the MDC Alliance have already been accused of threatening violence if they lose, but Biti insisted that under Section 59 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, they had the right to protest peacefully.

Section 59 is our constitutional right to peaceful protest. We wrote and died for that constitution. The right to peaceful resistanceis enshrined in our constitution.”

Section 59 enshrines, the “Freedom to demonstrate and petition • Right of petition Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.”

Asked how the MDC Alliance would make Zimbabwe ungovernable, he chuckled and said:” We can’t tell you in detail, except to reiterate that we have the right to protest, peacefully.”

If they want to shoot us, we are prepared for it, if they want to throw us in Chikurubi (Harare’s notorious prison where many political prisoners like him have spent time before) we welcome it. We expect the usual barbarism because they are barbarians.”

Many commentators have expressed the fear that even Western election observers will give the thumbs up to a Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF victory if the voting is peaceful and no blatant rigging is visible, if only because they want to be shot of the Zimbabwe issue which has been on the trouble agenda for nearly two decades.

Unlike Mugabe, who only allowed African or developing world elections observers, Mnangagwa has invited the European Union as well as US monitors, to try to win the approval he so desperately needs to unlock Western capital to revive the moribund economy.

We don’t expect anything from the usual African crowd which has been mandated to endorse thestatus quo. They will sing their usual song, ” Biti said.

But I think they (Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF) have opened the election up too much (for their own good). I have no doubt the Commonwealth, US and EU observers will tell the truth.”

Biti said: “Don’t confuse the subjectivity of the British ambassador with the Commonwealth,” he says, referring to the outgoing British ambassador Catriona Laing whom he and others have previously accused of backing Mnangagwa.

But surely she represents the British position, we asked Biti. No, he said, not even that. “She is a subjective and a total write off. She doesn’t represent the British position. She’s on her own frolic. The British government will support principles not Mnangagwa.”

And if Chamisa and the MDC win, what then? Will they be up the mammoth task?

Biti says it is “nonsense” that the 41-year old Chamisa, who took over the leadership of the main MDC party, MDC-T earlier this year after the death of its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai, lacks the maturity or gravitas to lead troubled Zimbabwe out of its current economic and political mess. 

He has steered this remarkably well after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai. No one gave us a chance. But we put up a really good campaign which will win.”

Some critics have suggested Chamisa and the MDC have not offered any real policy alternatives to the present government. What changes would an MDC-Alliance government lead by Chamisa make to Zimbabwe, Biti was asked.

We ran this country before,” he said, referring to the 2009-2013 unity government period.

In that time, Zimbabwe’s economy had grown by 11% and had attracted new investment. A MDC-Alliance government, this time unencumbered by an alliance with Zanu-PF as it was back then, would do even better in attracting international capital to help salvage the economy and rebuild it.

Biti insisted that 60% of the task of the new government would be achieved just because it would have the credibility to win the confidence of the international community. “We would not be carrying the baggage of a party that still believes it should enjoy entitlement and immunity because of a war which ended 40 years ago.”

This trust and confidence would be the key to the new MDC Alliance government turning the country around.

Biti, a lawyer by profession, but who is widely believed to have done a good job as finance minister in the unity government between Zanu-PF and MDC from 2009 to 2013, declined to say whether he was likely to get the same job in an MDC government if it won the election.

I can’t appoint myself,” he said.

But would he like to be finance minister again? “I would like to see Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF gone,” was his curt reply. DM