Lawson Mabhena Assistant News Editor
Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, Government and Electoral Commission have put the country on the right path towards the most “reasonable” elections since 1964, former MDC-T policy advisor and Bulawayo legislator Mr Eddie Cross has observed.
Mr Cross, who took up his first job in 1957, was probably using the referendum in which white residents of Southern Rhodesia voted overwhelmingly for independence from Britain on November 5, 1964, as the first election in his 54-year timeline.
In an article posted on his website last Friday, Mr Cross said while 38-year-old Zimbabwe was not a perfect democracy, it took older states like Britain 600 years to get where they are today.
“My concern about the real freedom of the voter to exercise their democratic rights in secrecy in a polling station and not face retribution afterwards, remain and whatever happens, will be an unseen factor. Still, this is Africa and we must allow for a gradual assumption of such rights — after all it took Britain 600 years to get there and we could argue that many older States are still not there in all respects. The one thing that is true, is that we are in a much better place to hold a reasonable election than at any time since 1964,” Mr Cross wrote.
“The great difference this time is that international observers and the media are now welcome guests and not ‘enemies of the State’. We do not have to smuggle them in as ‘golfers’ or to smuggle their footage out once it is captured. The interaction with ZEC, as opposed to that secretive old man at the Registrar General’s Office, Mudede, is completely different — they listen, may not do anything, but at least we have access and get a hearing.”
The observations by Mr Cross — an MDC founder member —come as egg in the face of MDC Alliance presidential candidate Mr Nelson Chamisa, who has been saying “it’s either a free and fair election or no election”, while demanding so-called electoral reforms.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has since responded to a petition by Mr Chamisa and his Alliance partners saying some of the demands are misdirected as they cannot be legally dealt with by the commission.
The commission also said it could not accede to the Alliance’s demands to delay the elections as that was the duty of the courts. The electronic copy of the voters’ roll, the Alliance was demanding, is now available, while State media has been covering all political parties.
Mr Cross, a trained economist, also spoke of change in the conduct of the police and how for the first time he managed to inspect a “reasonably clean” voters’ roll.
“Then there is the politics — yesterday was nomination day for tens of thousands of aspiring candidates for the 2 500 odd seats up for grabs in the elections now due on the 30th July. There are now 23 candidates for the Presidency and on average there will be any number for individual seats. The MDC called for a march the other day and a near record crowd turned out.
Zanu-PF Youth announced a rival march, but the Police banned it and said they could hold it the following day. On the day there was no interference although the riot Police were in evidence.
“Is this real democracy? I inspected the voters’ roll in my District and found my face on a page with all the details correct. It’s brand new and contains 5,5 million voters and should be reasonably clean. Previous rolls were maintained in secret under military control at a barracks in Harare and were constantly manipulated. There were millions of dead voters on it and it was used to ensure victory after victory for the ruling Party. Having a Constitutional right to inspect the roll or buy an electronic version meant nothing,” wrote Mr Cross.
“There are still problems — no access to the ZEC servers and we all know what that can mean. The Opposition had to go to the Courts to get electronic access to the roll, but that may now happen and will be a first since Independence. But many essential reforms to ensure a free and fair election are still not implemented. However, despite that, my friends in Zanu-PF tell me with a big smile — this election will be better that those in Kenya! They also say that it may not be free and fair in the classical sense, but it will be ‘smart’.”