The MDC-Alliance two weeks ago finally decided to unilaterally cut its list of demands to two, from 10 or more electoral reforms which they have been making since losing the 2013 harmonised elections after spending five years in the Inclusive Government.
Alliance leader and presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa said the other demands were frivolous. The remaining, non-frivolous demands focus on the printing, storage and distribution of the ballot papers. They want the political parties to be directly involved in these processes.
One thing the new administration of President Mnangagwa has done is to open up the democratic space in a way nobody expected, least of all the opposition. So far the MDC-Alliance has held more than 60 rallies across the country, far more than the ruling Zanu-PF. They have been to every corner of the country unhindered.
The effect of this freedom has been to undercut the opposition’s grievance-filled campaign messages over the years.
They cannot claim political harassment or violence. They cannot claim lack of media coverage across the board. Foreign observers have been invited from across the world, so such claims would be totally spurious and unhelpful. That culture belonged to the Mugabe administration. Yet surveys forecast they are going to lose the July 30 elections.
In a way that explains why the MDC-Alliance has decided to go technical in its grievances, focusing on the rigging mantra and intimidation of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Tellingly, Mr Chamisa has been vicious in his attacks on ZEC chair Justice Priscilla Chigumba for refusing to bend the law to suit the Alliance’s wishes.
It is on this last point where the private media and the whole galaxy of very senior lawyers in the MDC has been found to be playing accessory to a conspiracy to mutilate the law in a bid to wring even a narrow victory for Chamisa.
The Constitution is explicit at Section 239, “Functions of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission” subsection (g) that it is ZEC’s sole mandate “to design, print and distribute ballot papers, approve the form of and procure ballot boxes, and establish and operate polling centres”. It is these constitutional functions which the MDC-Alliance wants to usurp from ZEC.
Sadly, lawyers in the party, including its leader Advocate Chamisa, have been misleading voters that it is ZEC which is denying them the right to oversee the handing of the voting materials. For their part, the private media have reported on this patently illegal demands as if they were legitimate.
They have attacked ZEC and its chair for refusing to bend the law and have gone further to justify the MDC-Alliance’s demonstrations in pursuit of the same.
The same media treated in a similarly conspiratorial fashion Chamisa and co-principal in the Alliance Tendai Biti’s threats that they will disregard the law and set up a parallel party structure to ZEC to announce the results of the forthcoming elections. Instead of condemning this, the private media reported it as if it was an option allowable at law.
We are happy that the new administration has exposed Zimbabweans to democracy. We like it also that the opposition has taken advantage of this to test our budding democracy to the limit. We are, therefore, chary when would-be national leaders who purport to be fighting for constitutionalism, want to break the law on the whim.
We worry even more when the media turns a blind eye to these infractions and instead attack those individuals who turn the spotlight on the law. It cannot and should not be change at any cost by any means.
Chamisa and his opposition partners have threatened a vigil outside ZEC offices next week. He said they want Chigumba to “do things in a manner that satisfies the minimum demands . . . She thinks that she is the author of the law, the alpha and omega of wisdom. She is not, and must listen,” declared Chamisa this week.
These threats and insults must make every rational person cringe, coming from one who could be President one day.
True, Chigumba is not the author of the law and therefore cannot change it willy-nilly. More important, the law is clear that once the election date has been proclaimed by the President, no changes can be made relating to that election.
What Chamisa considers “minimum demands” regarding the ballot papers are outside the law.
It is that plain and the media should not play ignorant. It is not the way to entrench democracy.