The election fever seems to have gripped Zimbabweans from all walks of life. Even when our agendas are different, we are all Zimbabwean and we have a stake in the 2018 Harmonised Elections scheduled for 30 July 2018.
The elections are happening under a new political landscape which changed abruptly and unexpectedly in November 2017 following political pressure and a military intervention dubbed “Operation Restore Legacy” that ended the rule of Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old who had been president of Zimbabwe for 37 years. This paved the way for a new government under Emerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, former Vice president to Mugabe as president.
Now for the 2018 elections, there are 23 presidential candidates including four women, a first for the country.
Following this military-assisted transition citizens and many groups are concerned about how transparent, free and fair the elections are going to be. There are discussions around the postal vote, ballot paper, the voters roll audit, violence against women candidates and those contributing in the political sphere, and the list goes on.
Opposition political parties and civic society organisations are worried about the non- transparent way the postal vote was conducted by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Opposition political parties are concerned about the quality, quantity and authenticity of the ballot papers as they were printed in their absence violating the Zimbabwe Electoral Act and internationally accepted best practice standards for transparent, free and fair democratic elections. Some think the ballot paper could spill ink and there could be overprinting, giving room for rigging.
Moreover, on the voters’ roll, the ZEC delayed sharing it with the political parties and civil society organisations for auditing and cleaning up. Now with only a few days left to the polls, it is next to impossible to address issues of dead people found on the voters’ roll, people whose ages are above 130 years and the multiple registrations, with some individuals appearing more than 100 times on the roll.
But that’s not all. We are all disturbed by the violent nature in which most female candidates vying for various positions are being treated. They are facing emotional, physical and psychological intimidation, making it difficult for them to actively, freely and effectively participate in these historical elections.
These are critical issues which can seriously question the ‘free and fair’ perception of the elections. Working for an organisation whose mission is to work with people living in poverty to achieve social justice, gender equality, and poverty eradication, I am worried that the environment has become so polarised that we are not focusing on issues that affect the ordinary persons in the streets. Is there anyone challenging what the new government will usher in with regards to people’s access to water, electricity, sexual & reproductive health rights and other public services? I am worried about the women in our rural areas who are travelling long distances in search of water. I am also thinking of the urban woman vendor who sells her goods at night and faces public violence because of lack of public infrastructure such as street lights that make our streets extremely unsafe. I am pondering about the woman in the rural area who gives birth along the road because of the absence of health services in her community. Such women’s children have been given names such as “Chenzira” Shona meaning “a child born along the road”. In my rural home there are so many “Chenziras” and will we continue having such children even after elections?
I am concerned about the levels of unemployment in our country in which many of our youths and women find themselves in. I am particularly anxious because the elections are treated as an event. There are thousands of civil servants participating as polling officers and being deployed to areas outside their constituencies where they registered to vote. I am afraid they would rather choose to not vote in order to earn this one-time allowance. But poverty will still be at their doorsteps come 1 August 2018.
Of course, it is a duty for all citizens to participate in the election processes to ensure there is transparency and adherence to the Zimbabwean Law. ActionAid Zimbabwe, working with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), is supporting initiatives where staff can observe the elections. I am proud to say, ActionAid has ensured that staff members are deployed at the polling stations where they will be able to vote and observe the elections. I am one of the local observers myself, and will be playing my citizenly role as an observer for the first time in my life. I will let you know how that goes in my next blog, but for now, I just hope like all my fellow Zimbabweans, that we get this right!