Outcry over ballot paper

HARARE - Civic society groups and the main opposition coalition — the MDC Alliance — are protesting the presidential ballot paper outline, which has been designed in a manner that gives President Emmerson Mnangagwa a prime position ahead of his main rival.

An unprecedented 23 candidates are running in the country’s historic election on July 30, the highest number of candidates since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Mnangagwa, who took power in November last year after despot Robert Mugabe was ousted in a de-facto coup faces stiff competition from MDC Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa, aged 40.

While the 75-year-old Zanu PF presidential candidate has pledged that the vote will be free and fair, opposition political parties have poked holes into the management of the poll process by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

In the latest furore, Zec faces a barrage of criticism after it apparently allowed Mnangagwa to occupy the prime spot on the ballot paper instead of strictly adhering to the alphabetical order in what critics say undermines the fairness of elections.

Instead of using the traditional single column for all 23 presidential candidates, which would have resulted in Mnangagwa’s name appearing somewhere in the middle, Zec opted to use two columns, with the first column with 14 candidates, resulting in the Zanu PF leader appearing at the top in the second column which contains only nine candidates.

Provisions of the Electoral Act and Regulations envisaged that the names of candidates should be printed one below the other, “in alphabetical order of surnames” and that the form V.10 or ballot paper must have “vertical segments.”

Zec has indicated that this design was done on the advice of the printers — Fidelity Printers — with the chairperson of the under-fire commission Priscilla Chigumba citing section 236(g) of the Constitution which states that one of its functions is “to design, print and distribute ballot papers…”.

Fidelity Printers is a unit of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Chigumba has said her commission alone retains the sole discretion to deal with the issue, and demands by the MDC Alliance were meant to usurp Zec’s powers.

Zanu PF’s main rival, the MDC Alliance, alleges that the design is artfully meant to boost the electoral prospects of Mnangagwa.

This view is shared by all the major opposition political parties namely MDC Alliance, Joice Mujuru’s People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC), Elton Mangoma’s Coalition of Democrats (Code),  Nkosana Moyo’s Alliance for the People’s Agenda (APA), Noah Manyika’s Build Zimbabwe Alliance (BZA) and Thokozani Khupe’s MDC.

At their meeting held on July 9 in Kadoma, the opposition political parties drafted a document titled “Common position of the opposition political parties and candidates”, which stated that the parties resolved “the design and printing of the presidential ballot paper must show fairness based on uniformly applied principles founded on common sense.”

They also resolved that printing of the ballot must be carried out afresh in a transparent manner.

Chamisa’s chief election agent Jameson Timba told the Daily News yesterday that Zec was putting them at a disadvantage to Mnangagwa.

“The design of the ballot is embarrassingly discriminatory and biased in favour of ED to give him some remote psychological advantage. If Zec wanted to show favour to him, they should have been more circumspect. Notwithstanding that, ED remains charisma-free and unelectable. Cyclone Chamisa is unstoppable,” Timba said.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba yesterday told the Daily News: “My good comment is that ED the candidate has no opinion on decisions of a constitutional body,  still less on impressions of fellow contestants who must learn to bear the burdens of their self-sought fight without hoping for a shoulder from their opponents.”

As it is, Chamisa has rejected the presidential ballot papers that Zec finished printing at the central bank’s printing arm last week on Wednesday.

Legal experts have said the Electoral Act nor the regulations never envisaged that the number of presidential candidates will become so large that, if listed vertically, they will not fit on to a normal sheet of paper.

Legal and parliamentary watchdog Veritas said given the compelling reasons for listing the presidential candidates in two columns, then the dual columns were supposed to be of equal length, or as nearly equal as the numbers allow, so that the candidates who head each column get that advantage solely by virtue of the alphabetical order of their surnames.

“Instead, Zec’s columns, one with 14 names and one with nine, are artfully designed to ensure that the president has the advantage of heading the second column. There can be no legitimate reason for this,” Veritas said in a commentary.

Veritas warned that the design and layout of the presidential ballot paper does not conform to provisions of the Electoral Regulations of 2005 and Section 57(a)(1) of the Electoral Act which states the candidates should appear in one column in alphabetical order.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said the split could have been done to ensure that there are 12 candidates on the one side and the remaining 11 on the other.

“The ballot paper, as it is, raises fears that it was designed to give the incumbent an unfair advantage,” the Andrew Makoni-led Zesn said in a statement to the Daily News.

“In designing the presidential ballot paper, Zec should have adhered to the 2005 regulations which prescribe the Form V.10 as the design for the ballot paper. Zesn believes that it is important for the Electoral Commission to engage key stakeholders on critical issues such as the design of the ballot papers in order to safeguard the integrity and credibility of the 2018 election.”

Zesn said it believes that Zec should have ensured that the ballot paper design was in conformity with the law to avoid fuelling allegations of partiality that could endanger the acceptance of the outcome of the election, reiterating its calls for Zec to adopt the Open Data Policy and transparency in order to allay fears and misconceptions around key electoral processes.

Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group said this once again demonstrates the failure of the Zec to properly consult and look at international best practice elsewhere.

“They seem to have once again set themselves up to be criticised. Unfortunately, this seems to be Zec’s modus operandi in that it carried on in a way that generates these controversies. And frankly, it could have been avoided if they had sat down and done this more robustly and more inclusively and had actually looked at best practices elsewhere in the world,” Pigou told the Daily News.

“We have seen that ballot papers can be done in single columns and they can be done in double columns in a fairer way. They have generated a ballot paper that does rather look as though it favours ... Mnangagwa. It’s unfortunate that the Zec continues down this path but it seems to be determined to do so and to not generate conditions that actually contribute to building confidence, unfortunately quite the opposite.”

Political analyst and civil rights activist Gladys Hlatywayo said Chigumba and her Zec “have entered new and embarrassing horizons of institutional bias”.

“I will avoid the legal arguments because I am not a lawyer. But a look at that ballot paper clearly indicates that there was a deliberate ploy to strategically position the Zanu PF candidate at the top of the row.

“If the logic was to save paper and when you have 23 candidates, it is logical to balance the number of names on each side,” Hlatywayo told the Daily News.

She said this observation was further reinforced by other shenanigans that Zec has presided over that clearly shows bias in favour of Zanu PF.

“Such shenanigans include the scarf controversy and the ‘contacts gate’ scandal among others. Her explanation is therefore illogical and the only plausible explanation is that she is seriously compromised and trying to aid Mnangagwa’s bid.

“Zec must follow both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. In the interest of accountability and transparency, Chigumba must stop using the law to justify her clear bias. She must also know that Zec is one of the most mistrusted institutions and I therefore expect her to work hard to gain citizens’ and stakeholders’ trust.
Intransigence and arrogance will worsen the situation,” she said.

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London told the Daily News “this is a storm in a tea-cup”.

“Zimbabweans have been going to the polls since 1980. There is certainly the longest field of presidential candidates in this election, but only a small number of names have voter recognition,” he said.

“It’s a highly literate society as well as one well used to voting — and this time everyone knows there is something worth voting for, either a slow walk away from the Mugabe years or a more sudden departure from those years. No one will be much phased by the ballot paper. I think everyone has either made up their minds now, or are close to doing so.”

Comments (5)

Only fools would think this outcry is unwarranted. If Zanu through ZEC is willing to rig the alphabet imagine what they will do with the other stuff. They must be embarrassed.

Moe Syslack - 20 July 2018

Stephen Chan please go away you are an idiot.You are not even Zimbabwean. You reduce my right self-determination to a "storm in a cup." Who are you ?Just because you are well fed does not everyone else is.To hell with your elitist opinions.

Zoombrology - 20 July 2018

The Movement of Delusional Complainers should concentrate on explaining their manifesto to the electorate. Stephen Chan is right in calling this a "Storm in a tea cup". President Chanyiswa, give us a break from all this cry baby stuff.

Order - 21 July 2018

You must have order upstairs as your name so that you can understand why are they complaining be mature in politics then you will know than staying arrogant with blingers and only sticking to the little that you know people are not dogs who just bark without anything happens

Innocent - 21 July 2018

even tho garwe akaenda kumusoro i dont think pane angabhaizika kuona chamisa sagarwe neverrrrrrr.

disgusted member - 21 July 2018

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