Sifelani Tsiko Senior Writer
Zimbabwe is this week a clear new leader at the top of media charts with a large media contingent competing to cover this year’s fixture – a global headline-making event which has attracted international attention. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is reported to have accredited a record 20 000 observers made up of close to 500 local and international journalists, 18 000 local observers and 1 500 foreign observers.
Foreign observer groups include the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, Sadc Parliamentary Forum and non-governmental organisations such as Sadc Electoral Support Network and Sadc Electoral Advisory Council.
In addition to this list, are observers from European Union Commission, European Union Parliament, African Union Commission, Pan-African Parliament, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Commonwealth, Non-Aligned Movement, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group and ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
The Commission invited observers from at least 46 countries in this landmark July 30 vote with 23 presidential candidates, 1 642 National Assembly aspirants and a staggering 7 000 councillors vying for seats.
The number of presidential hopefuls has jumped from five in 2013 to 23 in yesterday’s polls while National Assembly aspirants have swelled from 842 in the previous poll to 1 642 in 2018.
In the 2013 poll, a total of 840 journalists were accredited to cover the election in which former president Robert Mugabe faced Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC-T.
Out of this total, 440 were foreign journalists while the remainder were local reporters.
The surge in the number of this week’s election has seen the country streaking ahead in terms of global media coverage and hogging the limelight.
Scribes from major news organisations are completely over-represented in this year’s election, the first without former Zimbabwe leader Mugabe.
A large media turnout filled most election campaign venues across the country with a scrum of reporters jostling to cover the country’s veteran nationalist and incumbent – President Emmerson Mnangagwa as well as the opposition MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
The swarm of reporters has clustered around the President and his main challenger Chamisa in many ways just as the crowds of reporters, photographers and hangers-on that often throng around celebrities or other prominent people.
Both foreign and local journalists have covered the colourful rallies in the build-up to election day, helping Zimbabwe to gain the lion’s share of global media attention.
ZEC has also allowed local embassies to select a maximum of five observers to participate in the elections.
A string of local NGOs and church organisations from across the country’s 10 provinces have also been given the green light to observe the process, marking a big shift from the previous administration.
Since President Mnangagwa assumed office, he has opened the country to a host of both local and international observers to enhance the transparency and credibility of the 2018 poll.
Observers from countries which were perceived to be hostile by the previous administration were allowed to come in addition to other friendly countries in Asia, Latin America as well as Africa.
The United States and most other European Union countries which still have not lifted sanctions on the country have all been allowed to take part in the process despite their compromised neutrality.
Observers were allowed to move around and monitor more than 10 500 polling stations strewn across the country’s 1 958 wards.
With unfettered access, the hordes of journalists who are currently in the country for the elections are bringing Zimbabwe’s story to the world.
In recent years, there has not been any other African country that has attracted so much attention as Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is unique when it comes to its elections. The large troupe of foreign journalists has given the country both positive and negative coverage.
The journalists have been sniffing for anything negative or irregular.
But the tranquillity and serenity prevailing in the country coupled with a better electoral process has sucked some of the oxygen from morbid and negativity-hungry foreign media.
Political analysts and social commentators all agree that the July 30 vote has broken several national and regional records.
Among a whole lot of positives, the poll has attracted the highest number of presidential candidates (23), contestants have had the longest campaign period (seven months plus) – the longest since 1979, it has attracted a record number of youthful participants, three female presidential candidates and various participants drawn from various racial backgrounds.
One analyst remarked that this is a good sign of the positive transformative process and deepening and widening of democratic participation.
The biggest winner is the prevailing peace and tranquillity – unseen before with no political skirmishes that has claimed lives or led to the destruction of property.
There are 130 registered political parties of which 57 are contesting the elections.
The country’s two major parties – the ruling ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC- Alliance) are vying for the majority of seats in the august House.
Renowned political analyst and director of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa, Prof Shadreck Gutto, was quoted as saying that it was likely that President Mnangagwa would win Zimbabwe’s presidential election despite a recent poll indicating that the race was too close to call.
Gutto said President Mnangagwa appeared to be having an upper hand over his rivals as he has opened up democratic space for Zimbabweans, who were oppressed by the previous administration.
And despite an Afrobarometer poll which showed 40 percent of voters choosing President Mnangagwa and 37 percent his opponent, Nelson Chamisa, Gutto said Mnangagwa still remained the frontrunner in the July 30 vote.
The bar for Zimbabwe’s electoral process has been set too high and the incumbent President Mnangagwa has done everything possible, much more than other countries in the region, to make the polls free, fair, and credible.
It is the first poll that the two main political parties have fielded new presidential candidates.
Zanu-PF elected the incumbent President Mnangagwa as party leader after Mugabe resigned in November 2017, while Chamisa and Khupe took over two factions of the MDC following the death of Tsvangirai in February this year.
If no candidate wins 50 percent plus one in the presidential election, there will be a run-off election on September 8.
A total of 5 695 706 eligible voters had registered as of 9 July, according to ZEC. Of these, 3 073 190 or 54 percent are women while 2 622 516 or 46 percent are men.
And given the high level of media access, freedom of campaigning and movement for the opposition, the invitation of observers from all over the world – both hostile and friendly countries, freedom of participation, peace and tranquillity and all other positive conditions, it is apparent that a free, fair and credible election is possible in Zimbabwe.
It offers a ray of hope and traction for the country’s democracy and its transformative trajectory.
The world should no longer shun Zimbabwe but speak up and stand with this country which is now more keener to join the global family