By Nick Mangwana
There are two sides to Zimbabwe’s elections. There is a side that wants to portray the country as peaceful and going through a democratic process in which the will of the people will prevail and be respected. They have done a lot and beyond paint the country as stable and democratic.
They have substantially stabilised the country and sucked in all forms of provocation from the other side. The dividend they want is foreign direct investment, international goodwill and acceptance of the country fully into the international fold and community of nations.
On the other side there are entities doing their best to portray the country as unstable, a conflict zone and a bad destination for foreign capital. Their desired dividend is poor economic performance, more suffering for the population resulting in citizenry disaffection. The final dividend they want is a protest vote which will enhance their chances at the polls. This is where the country is right now. One side wants what will benefit the citizens and country at large. The other side wants that which will benefit its very narrow and parochial interests to the detriment of everyone else. Zimbabweans are seeing through all this. One can say this is all politics but there is something that we should as a nation say no to. We can’t allow perennial malcontents to undermine national institutions. We should punish them at the polls.
The MDC Alliance is deliberately trying to subvert the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s ability to smoothly manage our elections. ZEC has tried to establish a well-articulated and predictable process using both the legal framework and engagement as the modus operandi. But the opposition is raising points of disputation at all points of the process.
As part of electoral reform, the Electoral Act was amended and highly modernised and made fit for the purpose. The Act says that ZEC should tell the candidates and parties participating in elections who is printing ballot papers and where they are being printed. That has not only been done; the candidates and parties have been allowed to witness the printing process.
But that has been deemed not good enough. We now hear demands that some want to supervise the printing of the ballots themselves; they want to guard the papers and drive them around distributing them to their centres. That’s a highly irregular demand which subverts a very clear and understood election management process. Our elections should be run by an independent body which is not interfered with. Why is the MDC-Alliance refusing to be guided by the law?
One of the key benchmarks for Zimbabwe’s democratisation was the new Constitution. The issue of choice of who takes part in the choice of the independent commissioners was a big part of it. The law is very clear on the process of that choice. So whoever is chosen has to be chosen on merit. The choice is done by Parliament.
There is an advertisement in the papers and potential commissioners apply and are shortlisted and publicly interviewed. This was done in the current case. Mr Chamisa co-chaired that committee. He now turns around and excoriates Justice Chigumba.
Maybe let’s rewind the clock and explain how Mr Chamisa is really disappointed in Justice Chigumba. In September 2016 members of the opposition applied to have a demonstration. Police banned demonstrations in Harare for two weeks. Justice Chigumba presided over the case and her judgment was in favour of some alliance which that time was known as NERA. This made former president Robert Mugabe livid. He uttered a massive diatribe against Justice Chigumba which was almost a threat.
To Mr Chamisa and his allies there was now a rift between the establishment and Justice Chigumba. But what Justice Chigumba had done was interpret the law. She had no dog in the dispute, but that did not stop Mr Chamisa thinking they had an ace in the pack at ZEC.
Her throwing out Evan Mawarire’s case also made them think they had an ally. So by recommending Justice Chigumba they were trying to rig the system in their favour. Their anger and bitterness is that Justice Chigumba is a fair judge. She favours nobody but is guided by the law.
The other person who they are disappointed by is Dr Qhubani Moyo. This man worked for the opposition and was very close to Welshman Ncube, one of the potential Alliance vice presidents. When he was recruited into ZEC it was a shock for many. It appeared the opposition had infiltrated the election management body.
So what we have is a Parliament that reformed the electoral laws in Zimbabwe, a Parliament that recruited ZEC commissioners and now President Mnangagwa is blamed. God knows what for. Why are people trying to create a conflict when everything is being done according to the law? Anything outside is subversive. The legal framework is very coherent so where is the dispute coming from?
The nation is confronted by an opposition facing political annihilation, therefore are trying to destabilise ZEC in order to produce contested results. These are very dirty tactics. To do so they have now deployed those that practise dark arts to help them. We all know that ZEC are the guarantors of political legitimacy in Zimbabwe. To treat them like an adversary is missing the point of independent commissions.
If Zanu-PF, being the party of Government, had harassed any constitutional commission just as the MDC Alliance is doing there would have been such a massive outcry because it would have been deemed as institution tampering. But it appears the opposition is being given a lot of latitude to harangue, verbally molest and try to delegitimise an institution founded on our Constitution. How can the same people who prance around as paragons of rule of law be so lawless and subversive?
Elections do not legitimise a government only, they legitimise an electoral system. So the use of discretion must be limited as we stick to the rules as agreed by Parliament in terms of the statute and gazetted regulations.
When we say institutions like ZEC should be kept away from political processes we are talking of in everything in perception. What we are having in Zimbabwe is a party that is going around undermining public confidence in the electoral process and still expects the disillusioned electorate base to drag their feet to an election they have a problem with. Now compare that to an invigorated Zanu-PF support base that have voted in large numbers in the past including in by-elections where they were not contested by an opposition scared of losing.
Independence also means that the tenure of office is not determined by others. This means ZEC commissioners and or the chairperson cannot serve at the pleasure of anyone. Anyone means those demonstrating against the commissioners tomorrow asking them to resign or quit, are interfering with that tenure.
So if the opposition place the commissioners and their leader under siege they are compromising the independence of the commission. They want to scare or psychologically blackmail the commission to accede to their demands, which is quite illegal. The MDC Alliance is interfering with the security of tenure of ZEC commissioners. The Constitution insulates ZEC commissioners from being arbitrarily removed from office. This means that these “Chigumba must resign… ” calls are interfering with that insulation.
The only saving grace is that Justice Chigumba is not only insulated by the Constitution but also by her personality which acts as a barrier to those that are trying to bring pressure to bear. Justice Chigumba can only be removed prematurely by her own resignation or by impeachment. Right now even the EU found it necessary to proclaim her integrity in a way that vindicated all her actions thus far.
ZEC should be allowed to enjoy its operational autonomy and determine its own calendar of activities without anyone breathing down their necks and superintending their work. They should not receive directives or instructions from anyone. That is what autonomy means. Not from an insecure or paranoid opposition or from the ruling party. The so-called Alliance is impairing ZEC’s independence and should not be allowed to do that.