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Zimbabwe’s opposition parties slam ‘uneven playing field’ ahead of 2023 general elections

Zimbabwe’s opposition parties slam ‘uneven playing field’ ahead of 2023 general elections
A young boy sits near campaign posters for CCC candidates in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo: AP Photo)

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is accused of repeating the biased behaviour that has previously characterised the nation’s polls, with opposition candidates citing cases of blocked funding, unfair disqualification of candidates, chaos related to voter registry and postal voting, and changing electoral boundaries.

Opposition parties in Zimbabwe have raised a red flag over the lack of preparedness of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to deliver a free, fair, credible and uncontested outcome in the general elections to be held on 23 August.

Most worrying are concerns from the country’s main opposition, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), which accuses the ZEC of working in cahoots with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF to create conditions that favour the incumbent head of state and his party.

The printing of ballot papers ordered by the ZEC has been shrouded in secrecy amid electoral litigation in the courts, resulting in Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Douglas Mwonzora withdrawing his candidature from the presidential race, citing an uneven playing field. Mwonzora argued that the ZEC was playing discriminatory politics ahead of the polls.

Independent presidential candidate Saviour Kasukuwere, who was a close ally of the late Robert Mugabe, is also still in court challenging his disqualification from contesting for the presidency.

This could cause headaches for the ZEC should the court allow Kasukuwere to contest. Despite losing an application for direct access to the Constitutional Court, Kasukuwere said he would not rest until justice was delivered. “We have noted the judgment and interestingly it opens new avenues for us to appeal the [Supreme Court] judgment and luckily we are still within time. As long as the courtrooms are open, it’s game on until the fat lady sings … Battles are lost but not the war. We fight on,” he said in a tweet.  

Zim opposition cries foul ahead of elections

Douglas Mwonzora of the MDC-T. (Photo: Supplied)

Mwonzora said his party felt it would not make sense to participate in elections whose conditions practically guaranteed a predetermined outcome.

“The MDC had 87 of its parliamentary candidates unfairly disqualified by the ZEC. The reason given is that they had failed to pay their nomination fees, yet it was the ZEC that made it impossible for them [to pay] their nomination fees.”

He added that the MDC was excluded from an extension granted to pay these fees.

“The MDC then took this matter to court. Although election cases are urgent, our case was only decided after one month and it was dismissed. What that means is that there was massive disenfranchisement in 87 constituencies as 87 of our candidates were no longer able to be on the ballot paper.”

Mwonzora also accused the government of blocking funding distributed to parties with representation in parliament under the Political Parties Finance Act to give the ruling party an edge over its competitors.

“Zanu-PF has unilaterally blocked the amount that was supposed to come to the MDC for purposes of training polling agents in this election. That means that in the 11,000 polling stations the MDC is unable to have election agents. Despite the clear provisions of the law that there should not be a change in electoral law during an election, this government has gone on to promulgate Amendment 140a, which seeks to regulate postal ballots in this election.

“What is clear is that the MDC has been treated in a discriminatory manner by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. For that reason, it was decided that we boycott this election. This presidential election is farce; it is a shame; it is far from being free and fair,” added Mwonzora.

The voters’ roll was described by the opposition as “shambolic”. And, according to Elisabeth Valerio, leader of the United Zim­babwe Alliance party, the ZEC has not made any effort to address the anomalies in it. The only female presidential candidate, Valerio successfully challenged her exclusion, albeit at the last minute.  

“I have concerns regarding some irregularities in Churu constituency, where over 2,500 voters share the same address,” she said. “This raises questions about the accuracy of and fairness of the voter registry. Additionally, there have been issues related to the postal voting system, which need to be addressed to ensure transparency and integrity in the electoral process.

“Transparency and accountability are key in ensuring a fair electoral process and we expect the ZEC to demonstrate both in its preparations. This includes addressing concerns raised regarding irregularities and ensuring that the postal voting system is reliable and transparent.”

Mwonzora, who unsuccessfully challenged the delimitation of constituencies in court, also alleged that the ZEC was changing electoral boundaries, which could mathematically work in Zanu-PF’s favour.

“Right now, the ZEC is busy changing boundaries of wards and constituencies. It added more than 1,000 more polling stations because the delimitation was invalid,” charged Mwonzora.

Fadzayi Mahere, the CCC spokesperson, also questioned the ZEC’s ability to deliver a credible poll result. Her party has accused the electoral body of being influenced by Forever Associates of Zimbabwe, a shadowy group linked to the Central Intelligence Organisation, raising fears that elections could be manipulated.

“We continue to see a biased state media ahead of the elections, political violence, political arrests, political freedoms constantly being violated – demonstrations banned, several rallies banned, illegal billboard regulations to stop us from advertising, yet Zanu-PF can.”

Mahere said “unconstitutional amendments to the electoral law to allow delayed postal voting” would enable vote rigging, adding that the CCC is still demanding democratic reforms ahead of the elections.

“We conducted the biggest voter registration campaign, which saw over 2 million new voters added to the roll.

“Now that we are here, we demand that the ZEC and all state institutions demonstrate their readiness by implementing electoral reforms, especially correcting the numerous irregularities in the voters’ roll and ensuring the electoral environment complies with the constitutional standard of a free, fair and credible election.”

Despite all the complaints by the opposition, ZEC deputy chairperson Rodney Kiwa was adamant that everything the commission did was above board. He rejected claims that the ZEC was captured by Zanu-PF.

“Preparations are on course and the commission is working round the clock to put all logistics in place. All political parties were consulted during the delimitation exercise. Therefore it is not correct that the commission is shifting boundaries to suit Zanu PF.”

Kiwa added that Zimbabwe had a “sound legal framework” for conducting elections and that the ZEC had nothing to hide. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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