Zim appears to have dodged the abyss

Posted 05 August 2018 Written by Eddie Cross
Category International

By all accounts, these were the freest elections held in Zimbabwe in more than two decades. But, as MDC representative for South Bulawayo Eddie Cross (who retained his seat) reports, there were clear irregularities. The street riots that took place in Harare last week were entirely understandable, given the historic bias of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). This time, however, the ZEC appears to have discharged its duties with reasonable diligence. As Cross points out, there is a real chance Zimbabwe has swerved from the edge of the abyss and can now begin the arduous task of reconstruction after three decades of plunder under former President Robert Mugabe.

Well the elections have come and gone, Mugabe voted for Nelson Chamisa and the MDC Alliance and the rest of us queued on average for about 3 hours to cast our votes. I voted in a tent and could hardly see the ballot paper. I had to use my cellphone to illuminate the voters roll to find my entry and without the same light I would not have recognized any candidate. All three ballots were poorly printed - the text was so small it was difficult to read. 

But I voted and at our polling station I guess the turnout was over 80 per cent. Very few were turned away and it was, by and large cheerful and with no tension at all. The Police were outside the tent and very helpful. From all accounts it was like that all over the country. Quite unlike any other election in the past 20 years - very good so far. In fact, looking back over the past 8 months since the MAT in November 2017, there is little doubt in my mind that this was the most democratic election in Zimbabwe since Independence. 

As Stalin said in the 1930's, 'it is not who votes that counts, it's who counts the vote that determines the outcome'. This was no different. I won my election in 2013 partly because I had tight control over all polling stations, people who could read and write to check the count when it took place at the polling stations and then a team at the control center where the vote was tallied and announced. I knew by three in the morning that I had won, how many votes had been cast and for whom and how many had voted for Morgan Tsvangirai as President. I also knew how many people had voted with voter slips that were used in 2013 to influence the outcome. 

When the Electoral Commission announced my results they had tampered with the Presidential ballot, not mine and all I had to do was phone the Commission and say their numbers were wrong. Without any further discussion or pressure they amended the results to reflect what I knew was the position. If you cannot do this in every polling station (11000) and every Command Center (210) then whoever is running the elections can do what they want. 

This election was no different, you could tell where MDC Candidates had their poll tied up - they won. Hwange was a prime example. One of my criticisms of the international Community in these elections was that they failed to support the polling agent system. In all previous elections we had significant assistance with this aspect - training for agents, provision of materials and food and a small per diem. This time nothing. 

The problem with such a situation is that when it comes to reporting the results the ZEC has no choice but to accept the results from each Command Center. These returns, cover the election of Councilors, Members of Parliament and the President. Each return must be signed by everyone representing the candidates at the Command Centers when the tally was concluded - otherwise the result cannot be announced, as they are, at every center. Once that process is complete, the election is over for everyone. 

So it is that when it was announced that Zanu had won 68 per cent of the Parliamentary seats, there was no real outcry. The results were accepted because they had been agreed at the Command Centers by all Candidates and their representatives, MDC increased their tally from 49 (2013) to 64, leaving Zanu with a narrow two thirds majority. 

The Presidential ballot is only different in that the 23 Chief Election Agents for the 23 Presidential Candidates have to be satisfied (at the National Command Center) that all the Constituency returns were properly completed and signed by their agents. Until this verification process is completed the counting cannot start. In this case the process took forever and led to street riots and the shootings on the streets of Harare. 

But once complete, the tallying took place and in the end, 4 days after poll itself, the results were announced - Mnangagwa with 50,8% and Chamisa just over 44%. The rest the anticipated 5 per cent. The Constitution says 50% plus one vote so the new President of Zimbabwe, now properly elected, is Mnangagwa. 

The outcry that followed is understandable because in the past the ZEC has been totally partisan and in 2008 when Morgan Tsvangirai won by a clear majority, they spent 5 weeks trying to falsify the results with no success because the tallying system at the Constituency level held sway. Eventually they just closed their doors and announced that no one had a majority and ordered a rerun. They simply falsified the ballot and burned the papers afterwards. Had they done their job properly Morgan would have been our President for the past ten years and what a different country this would have been. 

In this case, Zanu recognized that they had to have an election that was credible and that could not be challenged. It was a huge risk for them because they knew that they carried the baggage of 37 years of Mugabe dictatorship and a deeply divided Party at all levels. It was the President who took the decision to proceed despite the risk and the end result was an election campaign that was open and free to all contestant's. The playing field was not level in any way - Zanu had ample resources, the MDC Alliance none until late in the campaign. Zanu had total control of the media and used it, they also controlled the access to State resources and used that on a huge scale. But they did not attempt to falsify the results when they came in and survived by the skin of their teeth. 

Because the Constituency results are not, by and large, contested, the Presidential ballot will stand up to challenge and I am sure that this has been done. Any legal challenge should therefore be short lived. The BIG challenge facing Emmerson Mnangagwa is now to unite the country under his leadership and heal the wounds of past battles - the struggle for Independence, Gukurahundi, when they destroyed Zapu, Murambatsvina when they drove 10 per cent of the population out of the Cities and into the bush with thousands of casualties, the struggle against the MDC since 2000 with 5000 abductees, tens of thousands beaten and tortured, hundreds of deaths and the near total destruction of the economy, all in the name of fighting the restoration of real democracy. 

He also has to heal the wounds in his own, Party Zanu PF, which has been torn apart by the internal conflicts of the past five years. Only once he has done all of that can he turn to the future and here he faces equally daunting problems - the huge fiscal deficit, the bloated civil service, the corrupt cartels and individuals that infest the whole State system, the broken local government system and collapsed agriculture. However, the most important aspect at this stage is how the 46 Observer Missions view the final outcome. The new Government needs legitimacy and international recognition to make progress in tackling its Mugabe legacy problems. 

At this moment I think he will get just that, with serious reservations, but it should be enough. 

Today I remember Morgan Tsvangirai and his 25 years struggle to restore democracy to Zimbabwe. We are not there yet, but 2018 has been a huge step forward and this process is not reversible. Zimbabwe is on the road to a very different future. 


The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Acts Online. Acts Online accepts no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or fairness of the article, nor does the information contained herein constitute advice, legal or otherwise.