File pic: Priscilla Chigumba, ZEC Chairperson during the 2018 elections

THE credibility of the 26 March by-elections is under threat as their outcome is likely to be manipulated because the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is compromised and militarised in favour of the ruling Zanu PF, a new report has revealed.

According to a report by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) titled Zimbabwe’s March 26 By-Election: Unpacking the Menu of Electoral Manipulation, the by-elections are likely to be contested and controversial as a result of a number of irregularities.

“The country’s election management body, Zec, in 2021 abruptly postponed the mobile voter registration which was originally scheduled to commence on 6 December 2021. Zec cited lack of national identity cards (IDs) among eligible voters which are required when one wants to register to vote,” the report read in part.

“However, the country’s Civil Registry department has always been accused of engaging in deliberate attempts of delaying the issuance of IDs. As such, the eligible voters have always found it difficult to access their IDs. This has therefore inhibited their exercise of the right to vote.”

The ZDI says voters were clandestinely moved from their polling stations without their knowledge and such a development is likely to cause confusion, leading to many not voting.

“The ongoing 2022 voters’ roll audit by Team Pachedu revealed that Zec, among many other constituencies, moved voters from Glen View South to Glen View North. The sum effect is to turn away prospective opposition voters in the forthcoming by-elections as was the case in the previous elections,” the report stated.

“In the context of the March 26 by-elections and the forthcoming 2023 harmonised elections, the voter registration exercise has indicated that Zec is indeed captured by Zanu PF and plays a facilitatory role in its longer stay in power.”

“To facilitate Zanu PF’s power retention, Zec has recently played four electoral manipulation strategies which are creating uncertainty in voter registration, gerrymandering in voter registration centre allocation, manipulation of the voters’ roll and militarisation. These four form Zec’s latest menu for electoral manipulation and is against the constitutional provision of the independence of the commission,” the report added.

The report also said there has been ambiguity over the voter registration process in the country and Zec is said to be on the centre of it, meaning the elections are unlikely to be credible.

It also emerged that voter registration centre allocations were done in dubious ways that saw areas where the opposition commands a huge following getting few centres compared to those with Zanu PF strongholds.

“For example, Bulawayo, an opposition-dominated province, has been allocated 152 voter registration centres while the Zanu PF stronghold Midlands province was allocated 354 voter registration centres.”

“It should be noted that the opposition got 11 parliamentary seats whilst Zanu PF got 0 seats in Bulawayo in the 2018 election whereas in Midlands Zanu PF got 22 seats whilst the opposition got 6 seats. When Zec increases voter registration in the latter and suppressed it in the former, there is no doubt that it deliberately aimed at enabling more Zanu PF supporters to register whilst suppressing registration of opposition supporters,” the report stated.

“The gerrymandering was also evident in polling stations allocated to each province vis-à-vis the voter population. Logically, a province with more voter population should be allocated more polling stations.’’

Zec’s irregularities, the report said, amount to violation of the law and further erode public trust and confidence in the electoral process.

“However, Zec has clandestinely moved voters from one polling station to another without consulting and/or engaging the affected voters. This is in clear violation of the law as provided under Section 22A (2), 33(4) and 35(2) of the Electoral Law.”

The report said there was also concern over the militarisation of Zec which, according to the report, has over 15% of its staff comprising military personnel.

“It therefore suffices to say the military has always been affiliated to Zanu PF, one of the contesting parties in the elections. Therefore, the employment of former military men in Zec compromises and negates the independence and credibility of the commission. Recently, Zec made an admission that there was nothing amiss with delegating some of its duties to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), arguing that it was consistent with the dictates of the constitution.”

On the CIOs, the report noted: “The admission by Zec that it works with the CIO has left Zec tainted. Outside the militarisation of Zec, Zimbabwe currently faces a risk of degenerating into a securocratic state as indicated by the recent events in the country’s political landscape. In his address at a Zanu PF gathering disguised as National Youth Day celebrations, President Emmerson Mnangagwa openly declared Zimbabwe as a military state.”

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