IN THE days leading to crucial elections, political temperatures are searing in Zimbabwe, marring what have largely been peaceful preparations and raising the spectre of yet another disputed poll outcome.
The main rivals in the poll set for Monday, Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been involved in intense verbal exchanges over outstanding reforms.
Police, over the years seen as loyal to Zanu-PF, are also on high alert amid threats by the MDC to render voting “impossible” if the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) does not accede to its demands.
The MDC, led by presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa, is demanding that the electoral commission permits it to run tests on the divisive ballot paper to ensure the voter’s “X” mark cast on the ballot did not transfigure or mutate to another candidate voters did not elect.
The opposition party is also considering defying a police ban on a planned protest against outstanding reforms before election day.
Zanu-PF, in power since 1980 and participating in the first election without the deposed Robert Mugabe, has dismissed the MDC’s demands to ZEC as “unscientific”, “childish”, “unsubstantiated” and “baseless”.
“We are very much aware MDC are developing cold feet as election day approaches,” said Zanu-PF spokesperson Simon Khaya-Moyo.
He accused MDC of planning to cause unrest.
“Anybody who wants to cause chaos in this country will be severely dealt with by our law enforcement agencies,” he said.
Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Charity Charamba said the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) was ready to ensure the nation conducted peaceful, incident-free elections.
“Anybody who breaks the law will be arrested and prosecuted,” she warned.
Chamisa remained defiant.
“Zanu-PF and ZEC are conniving to rig the elections, and we should not allow that to happen under our watch. ZEC is deliberately driving this country (Zimbabwe) into instability,” he said.
The opposition has for years accused ZEC of rigging elections to sustain Mugabe’s decades-long stranglehold on power until a military coup forced him out last November.
Earlier, ZEC had succumbed to other demands by the MDC, including a request that the electorate cast their vote in privacy. ZEC had planned to have the electorate cast their ballots in the presence of polling officials, purportedly to ensure voters did not take selfies.
Qhubani Moyo, ZEC Commissioner, refused to comment on the latest demands by the MDC. He referred CAJ News to his earlier statement.
“ZEC saw it as without substance or justification (MDC demands) and will be an administrative nightmare and potential source of conflict. The commission is satisfied that the ballot paper is foul-proof and cannot be tampered with,” Moyo said.
The prevailing atmosphere is reminiscent of the polls held in 2008 when Mugabe and Zanu-PF eventually lost to Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC.
Tsvangirai did not garner an outright victory, prompting a run-off poll, which he later boycotted following deadly violence against his supporters.
Tension eased after regional leaders brokered a power-sharing deal.
The run-up to Monday’s poll had been largely peaceful with incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa preaching tolerance.
On Tuesday, Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed the organisation’s concern at the increasing number of reports, particularly in some rural areas, of voter intimidation, threats of violence, harassment and coercion, including people being forced to attend political rallies.
She also noted the use of disparaging language against female political candidates.
“We call on the authorities - and political parties and their supporters - to ensure that the elections are not marred by such acts so that all Zimbabweans can participate free from fear in a credible election process,” Throssell said in Geneva, Switzerland. - CAJ News