During a few radio and TV interviews immediately following the Zimbabwean
election, I heard myself developing an argument along the following lines:
a) voting on the day was peaceful
b) but elections are a process, not an event and the process was clearly flawed
c) though Mugabe and ZANU(PF) might well have won even without the "irregularities’ – not a result that pleased me, but one that I acknowledged.
With a few days’ hindsight and time to think, I'd like to see if this argument stands up. As I write there are dossiers being compiled to support arguments of rigging and they will be judged on their merits. What follows is an outline of areas that I believe invite further scrutiny.
a) As far as the voting itself is concerned, there is a consensus that the day was broadly free of violence. However, I do not believe it was free of coercion. There is evidence from election observers of polling booths recording high numbers of assisted voters – this in a country that according to the UNDP has the highest literacy rate in Africa (over 90%). There is also evidence of people being bussed into certain constituencies to vote and being allowed to do so based on possession of a registration slip.
b) Many of the accusations of electoral fraud centre on alleged manipulation of the voters' roll. These allegations will no doubt be the subject of detailed analysis. In the meantime, however, it is clear that Zimbabwe's own electoral law has been breached in so far as the voters' roll was not made available for inspection until the day before the election, and then only in printed form. The Electoral Act PART IV, Section 21 covers inspection of voters’ rolls and provision of copies. It states, inter alia:
(4) Within a reasonable period of time
after the calling of an election, the Commission shall provide, on payment of
the prescribed fee, to every political party that intends to contest the
election, and to any observer who requests it, one copy of every voters roll to
be used in the election, either in printed or in electronic form as the party
or observer may request.
(5) Fees prescribed for the purposes of subsection (3) or (4) shall not exceed the reasonable cost of providing the voters roll concerned.
(6) Within a reasonable period of the time after nomination day in an election, the Commission shall provide -
(a) free of charge, to every nominated candidate, one copy in electronic form of the constituency voters roll to be used in the election for which the candidate has been nominated; and
(b) at the request of any nominated candidate, and on payment of the prescribed fee, one copy in printed form of the constituency voters roll to be used in the election for which the candidate has been nominated.
(7) Where a voters roll is provided in electronic form in terms of subsection (3), (4) or (6), its format shall be such as allows its contents to be searched and analysed:
(i) the roll may be formatted so as to prevent its being altered or otherwise tampered with;
(ii) the Commission may impose reasonable conditions on the provision of the roll to prevent it from being used for commercial or other purposes unconnected with an election.
As far as I know, people who
requested an electronic copy of the voters roll are still waiting for it.
c) While these various irregularities may be challenged in the courts or in other international fora of dubious effectiveness, it is unlikely that this will result in more than a few seats changing hands. The overall outcome is unlikely to be overturned either in local or regional courts.
It is also possible that Mugabe and ZANU(PF) might have won anyway. The day before the election, Freedom House, a US human rights organisation, issued a statement that flaws in the process leading up to general elections in Zimbabwe called into question the elections’ credibility. Nevertheless, an opinion poll conducted on behalf of Freedom House in July last year noted that
Zimbabweans have become more critical of their political leaders. While 40% said they trusted political parties ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ in 2010, this has dropped to 30% in 2012. Based on the responses of the 53% of survey participants who agreed to state their political choices, trust in MDC-T, in particular, dropped from 66% to 39%, while trust in ZANU PF rose from 36% to 52%.
When asked who they would vote for if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, 47% of respondents said they would not vote, or refused to indicate who they would vote for (up from 41% in 2010). Of the 53% who declared their preference, 20% said they would support MDC-T (down from 38% in 2010) and 31% ZANU PF (up from 17% in 2010).
Those who want to understand the reasoning of the respondents can read the report in more depth.
So…I’ll stick by my tentative conclusions for the moment though it does not make me happy to do so. As more evidence comes in, I’ll reconsider.