Apprehension ahead of landmark Zimbabwe elections


Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa

from MARCUS MUSHONGA in Harare, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Bureau
HARARE, (CAJ News) – AMID both the main candidates claiming victory was certain, the deportation of perceived critics of the government and the renewed hostility with Europe over its so-called regime change agenda, Zimbabwe is tense on the eve of watershed elections.

This has raised doubts of the troubled Southern African country holding credible polls, the second to be held since a coup that supplanted longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, in 2017.

For the first time in weeks, Tuesday was not dominated by campaign rallies, as the law does not allow for such exercise on the day before the election, but tension was palpable.

The election is the culmination of weeks of apprehension, with critics arguing this has been the clumsiest preparation ever for an election in a country that has a history of disputed and violent polls.

Academic, Trust Matsilele, summed up the pre-poll period.

“Pre-election was the worst in recent memory,” told CAJ News Africa.

“Spurious legal challenges, abuse of courts, banning of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) rallies by police, intimidation and killing of CCC member, abuse of ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, opaqueness by ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) and manipulation of the ballot paper to privilege Emmerson Mnangagwa (incumbent president).”

CCC is the Citizens Coalition for Change, formed a year ago and the biggest threat to the stranglehold by the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), which has led the country since independence from Britain in 1980.

ZBC, acronym for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, and ZEC, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, are accused of allegiance to the ruling party, led by Mnangagwa (80), who is seeking a second term.

CCC’s Nelson Chamisa (45) is his main rival, and the two men have stokes tensions on the eve of the poll after claiming victory.

Mnangagwa chaired a final cabinet meeting on Monday.

“We are confident of a resounding victory as the Second Republic,” he said.

He said his administration had delivered on its five year mandate.

Chamisa was equally buoyant.

“At the end of the week, Zimbabwe will be under a new leadership. We are going to win by a big margin,” the opposition leader told supporters at CCC’s final rally in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest.

Among attendees were former Mozambican president, Joachim Chissano, as well as observers from the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), European Union (EU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc.

CCC reported that some of its supporters came under attack from ZANU-PF counterparts in the high-density suburb of Mbare in the capital while returning from the rally in greater Harare.

“This incident occurring just two days before the election is highly concerning. It is evident that ZANU-PF will never win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. The writing is on the wall that they are going to lose this election,” the party stated.

While interparty tensions are not anything new in Zimbabwe, there is growing animosity with the European Union (EU) bloc, the latest twist in spat that has dragged on for some two decades. There were efforts at re-engagement when Mnangwagwa came to power in 2018, but these have been to no avail.

In the latest row, Mnangagwa’s government accused the EU Election Observer Mission (EOM) of interfering with the elections by distributing food and money to communities.

“The EU EOM is astounded by the defamatory and malicious accusations. Allegations are based on unsubstantiated rumors and entirely fabricated,” Chief Observer, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, said.

“The EU EOM sees these articles as blatant disinformation of the Zimbabwean public. They reflect a continued effort to undermine the EU EOM and credible election observation.”

EU OEM comprises over 40 short-term observers.

Castaldo met the two main contenders and appealed for peaceful polls.

At his final rally, held in the Midlands town of Shurugwi this past weekend, Mnangagwa took a swipe at some observer missions.

“Zimbabwe is well-informed about democracy. No country can teach the nation about the basic principle,” Mnangagwa told supporters.

This is a stance that was maintained by founding president Robert Mugabe (now late) when relations with the West were fractured after the latter accused his government of election fraud and human rights violations.

However, Zimbabwe says this in response to its land reforms, which disposed mostly white farmers of land.

The governing party arrested and deported some observers and monitors deemed critical of the incumbent. Some have been denied accreditation.

The British academic, Stephen Chan, was deported over allegations he was in Zimbabwe to train opposition insurgents to cause post-election violence. He is a karateka.

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network expressed disquiet after it was denied accreditation.

“As advocates for transparency, accountability, and the democratic process, we view this decision as a direct affront to the principles of fairness and openness that are fundamental to any democratic society,” it stated.

The government’s publicist, Nick Mangwana, justified the denial of accreditation to some organisations and individuals.

“If you are so biased to a level where you have already declared that there cannot be a free and fair election in Zimbabwe, why would we invite you to observe those elections when you have already taken a position?” Mangwana quipped.

The International Federation of the Red Cross foresees post-election violence. It has allocated CHF 160 105 (US$182 428) to intervene.

The situation unraveling in Zimbabwe is cause for concern in neighbouring South Africa, which is the worst affected by the crises in the troubled country.

Millions of Zimbabweans have fled the economic and political problems and found refuge in South Africa. The presence of the Zimbabweans has been a source of xenophobic strain as South Africa endures high unemployment.

“For two decades now, South Africa has been a net recipient of economic refugees from Zimbabwe fleeing a collapsed economy and health system. This has resulted in undue strain on our domestic resources and inflamed tensions within local communities,” said Emma Powell, DA Shadow Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.

She accused the government led by the African National Congress (ANC) of failing to hold ZANU-PF accountable.

“As long as the ANC government continues to protect the ZANU-PF regime, South Africa will continue to pay a heavy price,” Powell said.

Another South African opposition leader, Mmusi Maimane, also pleaded for credible polls.

“It’s equally vital we uphold democracy in the continent, so the starting point is ensuring Zimbabwe elections are free and fair, that dictators are removed and the African Union builds a stronger Africa, with infra trade amongst nations strengthened,” Maimane said.

More than 6 million Zimbabweans are registered to vote. Some eleven contestants are vying for the presidency.

The last election in 2018 returned results at 51 percent to Mnangagwa and 45 percent for Chamisa, who then was leading the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, which had boycotted the upcoming poll.

Voter turnout five years ago was 85 percent.

– CAJ News

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