Zanu PF should level electoral field

HARARE - The requirement to stage regular elections that are both free and fair is one of the defining features of a liberal democracy.

In past elections, pointedly the internationally condemned 2008 poll, thousands of Zimbabweans braved violence, intimidation and other obstacles to demand the right to express their will through the ballot box.

At least 200 were murdered by marauding Zanu PF thugs.

Zimbabwe can be described as nominally democratic — in the sense it holds regular elections, mostly stolen through ballot fraud. Using its power of incumbency and authoritarian rule, Zanu PF has consistently skewed the playing field in its favour.

The November military action that toppled despot Robert Mugabe was dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe.

Given how millions of Zimbabweans underwrote the military-assisted ouster of Mugabe, our electoral systems must be beyond reproach.

To be truly democratic, elections have to be both free and fair.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised a free and fair election, but clearly he is not walking the talk.

Fairness requires that electoral contests take place on a level playing field, yet that field has become dangerously tilted in favour of the ruling party, Zanu PF.

An uneven playing field is a central, yet under-appreciated, component of contemporary authoritarianism.

In many regimes, democratic competition is undermined less by fraud or repression than by unequal access to media, and state institutions.

When opposition are denied access to State media, their ability to compete in elections — and survive between elections — is often impaired.

Where the playing field is skewed, this results in a predictable outcome, even in the absence of large-scale repression as witnessed in the 2008 polls.

A skewed playing field may thus allow autocrats to maintain power without resorting to the kind of fraud or repression that can undermine their international standing, allowing them, in effect, to have their cake and eat it too.

The main opposition MDC Alliance has been demanding a sensible set of electoral reforms that include but are not limited to clearly defining the role of the military in Zimbabwe’s elections, the independence of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, 40 percent of whose secretariat are either serving or retired members of the military, impartiality and free and equal coverage of all contesting parties by the public broadcaster, legislative reforms covering the Electoral Act, the Public Order and Security Act as well as the Access to Information and Privacy Act, which clearly proscribe fundamental freedoms of speech and assembly.

The MDC Alliance also wants all contesting parties to audit the voters’ roll and to stem violence and intimidation so that the sovereign expression of the people is not curtailed.

The biggest opposition conglomerate, crucially, wants the firm printing the ballot paper agreed to by all contesting parties as well the auditing of the quality of that paper.

This is absolutely important because its the avenue previous polls have been stolen.

The MDC Alliance has rightly said it will not compromise on the voters’ roll and the ballot paper, emphasising that there will not be an election in the absence of an agreement on those important matters.

Predictably, the government has already rejected some of the key demands that relate to the printing of the ballot and the audit of the voters’ roll.

Given this deadlock, there is need for regional, African Union and broader international pressure to be brought to bear to break this impasse.

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