Avoid a repeat of the 2008 violence
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 16:42
The discussion topic was: 2008 March and June elections – Successes and Challenges. Will history repeat itself? Although the discussion could have centred around two main issues, Zimbabwe and the MDC, Friday’s debate concentrated on the former.
In his lecture, Prof. Makumbe said an election was a process which must be free, fair and just. He spelt out components of a viable, free and fair election in order to avoid the repeat of the 2008 violence. One of them is that eligible persons wishing to register as voters must be permitted to do so.
Prof. Makumbe explained how thousands of people were denied access to vote: “Some people were turned away from registering as voters on the basis that they were aliens or one of their parents was born outside the country. Others could not register simply because they did not have the headman’s recommendation while those in towns were asked to get written confirmation of proof of residents from their landlords or landladies,” he said.
Political parties must be able to campaign freely at any given time but this was not the case in 2008 as most rural areas were declared ‘no go areas’ for the MDC. A lot of people were forced to attend Zanu PF rallies to avoid harassment.
The MDC believes that the electorate must have the right and freedom of assembly, association and movement. He said the public media must be obliged to provide balanced information about political processes taking place. “In 2008, the MDC could not advertise on ZBC even though the Party was willing to pay. MDC had to go to court for it to be allowed to advertise in the State media.
At the moment, Zanu PF is advertising using several jingles while the MDC and other parties are not permitted to do the same. This is not right,” said Prof. Makumbe. Another pre-condition for a free and fair election is that there should be no cohesion, violence and/or intimidation to make people vote in favour of a political party.
“After violence which followed the March 2008 election, two million voters where forced to vote for Mugabe or face the consequences. The Electoral Act needs to be amended to ensure democratic elections. In a welcome move, the new constitution says anyone who uses violence in campaigning is automatically disqualified,” Professor Makumbe explained.
Voters must not be victimized before, during or after voting for a party of their choice. In the past, people have had to spend months in the bush as they feared reprisals from Zanu PF after voting for MDC candidates. As if this was not enough, the police would arrest those who dared report acts of violence perpetrated against them by State security agents or Zanu PF members.
This could happen again, warned Prof. Makumbe. The dictates of free and fair elections in democracy demands that the body responsible for running elections must be professional. However, as we speak, the Zimbabwean voters’ register is in shambles. The speaker noted, “In 2008 some people managed to register but their names could not be found in the register, come election time. The draft constitution stipulates that one can vote even if his/ her name is not in the register provided he/she has an identity card and proof of residence. Therefore, voters wishing to vote in an election must be given a fair opportunity to do so.”
Prof. Makumbe pointed out some of the reasons why the 2008 elections were marred by voter apathy: “There are people who said their vote does not make any difference. They cited how they voted in 2000 and 2005 but nothing changed.” Yet another condition for a free and fair election is that foreign and local observers should be allowed to participate to ensure a credible election.
In 2008, however, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and other countries were denied access to monitor the polls. After the election which was laden with violence, even the Southern African Development Community (Sadc)refused to recognize the outcome of the re-run.
Prof. Makumbe said no party should be allowed to use State resources to get unfair advantage. Back in 2008, Prof. Makumbe witnessef 104 State-related vehicles including two ambulances and those from the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority entering Sakubva Stadium to attend Robert Mugabe’s campaign rally. No other party has been allowed to use such taxpayers’ resources for political mileage.
Finally, the military and other security forces must recognize the outcome of any democratic election. Security forces were behind the five-week delay in announcing the March 2008 election result as they tried to doctor the figures. Prof. Makumbe said: “Winners of an election must move into the structures within 24 hours. If winners do not move into the structures immediately, they have lost it.”
Speaking at the same platform, Mfundo Mlilo, a Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) official said there was voter apathy in Harare and Bulawayo during the 2008 election. In Harare, 42% registered voters cast they ballots while 33% voted in Bulawayo. Spoiled votes amounted to 39 000.
The two areas are MDC strongholds and to record such figures is not a good sign, says Mlilo. Mlilo said much could not be done about the fixing of results by the former ruling party as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was staffed by securocrats.
Even the electoral body’s spokesperson, Utoile Silaigwana is an army major. The only way to win the next election is to win the vote of the youths and minimize the number of spoiled ballots.
In line with MDC, civic society and SADC, ZESN has produced a document spelling out the minimum conditions for a free and fair election. One of the aspects spelt out in the document is that an election monitoring force must be in place at least three months before the election and three months after the plebiscite to ensure a peaceful transition.
The ideological lectures are an MDC initiative meant to equip party cadres and interested members abreast with political developments locally and abroad and to discuss matters of interest.The discussions are held every Friday evening at Harvest House.