By Yvonne Manjengwa
Zimbabwe’s harmonized elections set for July 31 this year are set not to be free, fair and credible unless government urgently takes serious steps that level the electoral playing field, a United States based international Human Rights Monitoring Group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
Jointly addressing a press conference with Dr. Pedzisai Ruhanya, Director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) and Tamuka Chirimambowa, Executive Secretary of the Institute of Public Affairs in Zimbabwe at the Media Centre in Harare today, Human Rights Watch Director for Southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga said President Mnangagwa’s promises that elections will be free, fair and credible are not being met by practical reform steps on the ground, a situation that, he said, puts into serious doubt the ability of voters to freely choose their leaders.
“President Mnangagwa needs to go beyond mere rhetoric and take genuine steps to level the playing field for all candidates and their parties. A key test will be whether state media give equal coverage and access to all political parties without bias or favor,” said Mavhinga.
Mavhinga said a research conducted by Human Rights Watch across Zimbabwe points to security forces’ involvement in the electoral process. He said the electoral process is being undermined by abusive laws that remain in effect, adding that the violence and intimidation perpetrated by the ruling party in the past is contributing to an environment that is not conducive for free and fair elections.
“Equally worrying is how the infrastructure of violence has remained intact”, Dewa said.
On the management of elections, Mavhinga said: “The role of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which is charged with overseeing the 2018 election process, is also of particular concern. The commission has not demonstrated independence or impartiality. At least 15 percent of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s secretariats are serving or former military officials. The military should help make the commission more independent and professional by removing serving military officers from ZEC.”
Dr Pedzisai Ruhanya, raised concern over the non-availability of the voters’ roll seven days before the sitting of electoral nomination courts. He said while opposition political parties are in the dark as to the state of the voters’ roll, ZANU PF is fully aware of the roll’s contents
“We cannot go to elections as if we are in animal farm where other animals are more equal than others. The voters’ roll must not be a secret”, Ruhanya said, adding that violence perpetrating vigilante groups including ZANU PF’s Chipangano and MDC’s Vanguard must be dealt with by law enforcement agents.
Chirimambowa said Zimbabwe is in for a sophisticated episode of election manipulation. He said Zimbabwe is under a system of competitive electoral authoritarianism in which the menu of manipulation includes sweeteners such as giving the opposition access to the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
“If the elections are to be free and fair, ZEC must be demilitarized; the voters’ roll must immediately be made accessible to all citizens; there must be transparency in ballot printing and other election management processes; hate speech in public media must seize and all contesting parties and candidates must be given equal, unfettered access to public media”, Chirimambowa said.