Poll nightmare: Zec boss seeks prayers

HARARE - Zimbabwe’s electoral body is sweating over potential trouble ahead of the upcoming general election.

Rita Makarau, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson, is now asking church leaders to pray hard as a watershed general election beckons.

After helplessly watching a chaotic mobile voter registration exercise characterised by chaos, Zec — the body in charge of the country’s electoral processes — has asked for prayers from the church as the country faces the spectre of the 2008 election violence.

Speaking during a meeting with church leaders on Wednesday, Makarau said although Zimbabwe held a peaceful referendum in May, tempers are likely to flare during the road to the crunch election.

The upcoming election, whose actual timing is still a subject of haggling by coalition government partners is widely billed as the most important since the country attained its independence from Britain in 1980.

“We ask you to pray for us as we prepare for elections. We have had a peaceful referendum and it was because of your prayers. Now as we go to elections we need you to pray for our leaders and continue preaching peace,” said Makarau, a respected Supreme Court judge before taking over the Zec role.

“We are going to be referees and tempers are going to be paper thin. We need wisdom to monitor this process,” said Makarau.

Past elections in Zimbabwe have been characterised by bloodshed and in 2008 the process was marred by an orgy of violence which the MDC and civil society groups blamed on Zanu PF and the military.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, then an opposition leader, claimed that the violence had left 200 of his supporters dead and thousands brutalised and evicted from their homes.

President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party admitted violence rocked the 2008 election, but say both the MDC and Zanu PF were to blame.

Although Mugabe and uneasy coalition partner Tsvangirai have been preaching peace, there are already some cases of violence and intimidation being reported.

Civil society groups such as Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition say communities are still living in fear of a repeat of the 2008 violence and this is fuelled by the fact that many of the perpetrators are roaming free and even threatening more violence.

Recent statements by service chiefs such as police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, prisons boss Paradzai Zimondi and army chief Constantine Chiwenga have, however, rendered Mugabe’s peace message hallow, as they continue with statements viewed as “coup plots”.

With Mugabe and his supporters already spoiling for elections and some sections of the media going into overdrive fanning up emotions, the Zec boss said there is need for the “grace of God” since elections are a very sensitive process.

Joyce Kazembe, Zec deputy chairperson, said there is need for the country to move from hoping for a credible election to the fulfilment of that hope.

“We want to move away from the spirit of hope to trust that we would have free and fair elections. Don’t ask us the date for the polls because we are as ignorant as you are,” she said.

Mugabe says elections would be held soon after the expiry of the current Parliament on June 29, but Zec, which should preside over the process, is for now broke.

“Taking into account financial constraints it would be foolhardy for anyone to announce dates for polls without providing the prerequisite envelope,” Makarau said.

Although the ongoing mobile voter registration programme ends on Sunday, Zec, which is playing a peripheral role in the process, says a 30-day extension as provided in the new constitution would enable people to register to vote.

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