Scare tactics: Form of rigging

HARARE - Most disputed elections in Africa have occurred after incumbents who were not prepared to accept  defeat have resorted to various forms of fraud and cheating to  forcibly impose outcomes that enabled them to cling to power illegally while overturning the expressed will of the electorate.

One dictionary defines rigging as “someone arranging dishonestly for the result of something,  for example, an election, to be changed.”

Another dictionary explains rigging as “plain cheating, involving one person repeatedly voting several times.”

This dictionary adds interestingly but erroneously that this form of chicanery “happens in the village election,” perhaps unaware that because of the scourge of dictatorship  and insatiable power hunger on the African Continent ,this type of fraud is now routinely resorted to even in national elections.

“Ballot rigging”, says a third dictionary, “is the act of illegally changing the result of an election by producing a false record of the number of votes.”

In the illegal methods defined above, which could invariably encompass ballot-box stuffing , multiple voting and fraudulent counts, the people at least go to the polls to exercise their right to elect leaders and representatives of their choice.

Their votes are stolen at the end of the election process when an outcome  favouring the losers is forcibly imposed on the nation.

It would be cold comfort if those who choose to cling to power at all cost had improved these methods and made their employment less brutal and more subtle and sophisticated.

Alas, the reality on the ground is even more alarming as the fight to remain in power for life intensifies.

In recent years, electoral fraud and refusal by defeated incumbents to relinquish power to the rightful election winners have become even more blatant.

This is the sort of crude insanity that is at the root of what landed former Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo at The Hague.

A few other leaders who refused to accept that the citizens of their countries could vote for someone else got away with their illegitimate hold on power by arranging hasty swearing-in ceremonies.

Attempts by continental and regional bodies such as the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) to gloss over these blatant abuses by embracing the formation of governments of national unity (GNU) as face savers for the losers are yet to yield positive results in Kenya and Zimbabwe, for example.

In the meantime, Sadc which is responsible for ensuring the staging of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe needs to be more proactive than it has been in the past, ahead of polls to be held next year.

Its modus operandi thus far, which is similar to that of other continental bodies, has been to wait until a violent election is held even if there are ample signs of a looming bloodbath beforehand.

The regional body needs to heed the warnings and fears voiced by the affected population and come up with appropriate and timely interventions.

A sense of apprehension and dread is rapidly enveloping Zimbabwe as the staging of general elections in March next year looms.

The people are justified to regard the event with trepidation  on the basis of past violent polls but the scare mongering being resorted to by the former ruling party Zanu PF, is raising tensions to new levels.

The former ruling party’s scare tactics have taken the form of threats by senior officials Patrick Chinamasa and Rugare Gumbo,  that the army would reject a victory by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and would block him from assuming power are glaring examples.

Although these outbursts are a sign of desperation and uncertainty about the party’s chances, the  threats represent a crude and insidious form of rigging that begins long before a single ballot has been cast.

They threaten to disenfranchise large numbers of voters. These alarmist tactics  are a form of rigging defined  by a couple of online dictionaries as “clandestine and illegal efforts to shape election results” or “illegal interference with the process of an election”.

Zanu PF is hardly a party that makes idle threats when it fears that its 32-year hold on power could end.

Past elections in which violence, intimidation and coercion, displacements and even killings have been resorted to, have made this abundantly clear. And the aggression does not end there.

The party has been known to follow up with reprisals in constituencies where it has been voted out through terror campaigns such as Operation Makavhotera papi (Who did you vote for).

Sadc should acknowledge that while a military coup may in the end not take place as insinuated in Chinamasa and company’s tirades, the subtext of the scaremongering is directed at the electorate and it is: “woe unto you if you vote for the MDC.”  

In this context, Chinamasa’s inflammatory utterances have already been amplified by none other than President Mugabe himself.

It is noteworthy that the Head of State who, state media always remind the nation, is also the Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces, has not said a single word to reassure the electorate of the political neutrality of the  army and its generals.

In a speech in Hwange on October 18, in which he urged the people to vote wisely in the  next elections, he left no doubt in anyone’s mind what voting wisely means.

In remarks quoted in The Herald issue of October 19, the President conceded that the government of national unity was a disastrous failure but attributed its formation to Zimbabweans not having voted wisely in 2008.

“We are going for elections and you have seen what our country should never do again.

Please do not get us into that trouble again. That is not our way of doing things. Freedom fighters are people who want to move ahead”, he was quoted as saying.

The President seems to have forgotten that the GNU was established on the direction of the AU to accommodate him and his party following a disputed election won by the MDC.

The sense of entitlement in claiming that voting wisely next year means voting only for Zanu PF is therefore disingenuous.

Sadc needs to take a stance against the promotion of a narrative of this kind, which not only seeks to pre-determine the outcome of the next election by instilling fear in the electorate but  could actually be concretised through violence.

Zimbabweans know only too well that the former ruling party will capitalise on this fear in its desperate bid to maintain its grip on power. The electorate is at grave risk. - Mary Revesai

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