AT the end of last week, there were attempts to brew a storm around the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and its process of handling and printing ballot papers, following a press conference by the European Union Observer Mission. The mission’s head, Elmar Brok made a number of pronouncements regarding Zimbabwe’s pre-election period.
Among other things he said: “The creation of the brand-new biometric voters’ roll for the elections is welcomed. This has been a major effort by the ZEC. However, I understand that a number of issues relating to the roll have been evident during the process.”
He also said the mission’s observers have been meeting a broad range of stakeholders, including the election commission, political parties, candidates, civil society and media and remained in the field to observe the results processing and any post-election legal dispute.
He noted that Zimbabwe’s elections were a critical test of the country’s reform process, being an essential step in a long and challenging reform process.
Mr Brok said that process could result in the change of attitude towards Zimbabwe (by the West) especially also for questions like sanctions, questions like investments in this country, questions of making it possible that Zimbabwe will overcome some serious economic problems, this is partly interconnected.
On the critical issue of ballot papers, said Mr Brok: “We have also discussed rumours about the ballot paper and other relations.”
Mark Stevens, his deputy, weighed in saying: “Issues like transparent printing and storage of the ballot papers come out in most elections. Some countries provide, but some don’t. We are aware of opposition parties’ concerns and what is import is transparency and inclusivity in printing of ballot papers.”
Predictably, private media and opposition supporters on social media platforms latched onto this latter statement to seek to project a confrontation between the EU and ZEC
Reading the private media and social media, one had the feeling that the Armageddon had finally arrived with the showdown between ZEC and the Western observers.
It is largely felt that the West will be key in legitimising these elections, which come eight months after the resignation of former President Mugabe. Western disapproval of the process is deemed fatal.
No doubt, the opposition in Zimbabwe is spoiling for a delegitimation of the process that they are likely to come out with poor results.
ZEC is the last frontier.
Top MDC official, Charlton Hwende, for example said in a tweet last week: “The ballot paper is now the major rigging avenue left to @ZECzim and @edmnangagwa. All Foreign observers must be allowed to randomly test the ballot and check it after a few hours the X will move this is what happened in 2013.”
Hwende is the chief propagandist of a bizarre claim about inks disappearing from MDC marked ballots and placing themselves for Zanu-PF.
Thus, it was not surprising that the opposition would clutch at the slightest hint of EU observer mission’s reference to ballot paper. The larger scheme of things is to set the agenda for the European Union and other Western interests.
However, the task is not going to be easy. Just not this time.
All major stakeholders regionally and internationally have been allowed into the country and are on the ground assessing for themselves.
They are not going to be fed any cock and bull story. Recently, the mission disproved reports in the opposition media that they had been harassed in Chiredzi.
They are seeing for themselves what is obtaining on the ground, a three short weeks from elections. The elections are themselves the most peaceful and well-organised since 1980.
All fair observers will find it hard to unsee this.
The person leading the process, ZEC’s chairwoman Justice Priscilla Chigumba has shown the composure to administer such an onerous task.
She is fiercely defending her turf — the independence of ZEC — while running the show and opening it up even to unprecedented levels of transparency.
In an interview that we had with her last week, Justice Chigumba was forthright: ZEC would operate within the laws and would not arbitrarily invent new ones, least of all to placate certain quarters that have not used their legal and political capital to influence the process.
The EU’s Mr Brok takes note of this.
At the presser last week, he said: “I heard that the head of ZEC is a very able lawyer and I have learnt that she knows very much the law and sticks to the law and I hope that this will be used in a way that lack of credibility does not arise.” That is a seemingly grudging admission of how Justice Chigumba has risen above the fray.
She is playing by the book.
Those who respect the rule of law know that ZEC is ticking all the legal boxes in what is a sure way towards a legitimate and credible process with undisputed outcomes.
In this light, it will be difficult to set the agenda for the EU and other missions.
Not least, they are coming to Zimbabwe having, probably for the first time, very open minds.