2018 is the election year for Zimbabwe and there are many sticking issues as regards how the elections will be conducted. Having been scarred by the painful memories of the past years especially 2008, and to a certain extent 2013, Zimbabweans and many observers around the world are concerned if the country is capable of holding elections in a free, fair and credible manner.

Some few weeks ago, I came across an article (and wrote about it) that said Libya is not capable of holding elections in a free and fair manner.  The Human Rights Watch reported that “voters, candidates, and political parties” are at risk of “coercion, discrimination, and intimidation” if the ballot goes ahead. It shows all signs of an election that can be a farce, a sham and widely condemned. What with all the instability that Libya is currently faced with since the death of Muammar Gaddafi?

It got me thinking, what about Zimbabwe? This year many African countries are having parliamentary and presidential elections, and Zimbabwe is included in that list. The stakes are high this time. The political landscape has changed than what it was back in 2013. The people have changed. But in essence, the system is still the same. The system which can do all it can to retain power.

2018 will be the first election without Robert Mugabe or Morgan Tsvangirai. Following last year’s coup which saw the unceremonious fall of Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa is now the president. In similar circumstances, but without the aid of the military at his disposal, Nelson Chamisa rose to become the MDC-T leader after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai. Among many other contestants like Dr Nkosana Moyo, Joice Mujuru, Elton Mangoma, the elections seem to be a hotly contested affair.

But will these elections be free and fair? In 2008, ZANU-PF resorted to the most ruthless form of violence without any shred of remorse to quell the opposition led by Tsvangirai into submission. This was followed by serious legitimacy problems which culminated into the coalition government. In 2013, ZANU-PF realized that the blatant use of brute force would result in serious legitimacy problems, so they used more subtle underhand tactics to tilt the scales in their favour.

The military and the war veterans have always played a crucial role in keeping ZANU-PF in power through their unorthodox methods entailing violence, intimidation, handing out of aid in  a partisan manner among others. The military has always been involved in the politics of the country. It was their involvement that resulted in the fall of Mugabe. They tasted political authority, and the question now is would they have risked all that so they could rule for these few months? Then there is the issue of the traditional leaders, who openly violate the provisions of the Constitution by brazenly showing their support for ZANU-PF. Traditional leaders use intimidation tactics so that the people in the rural areas feel like every aspect of their lives including the voting process is being monitored by ZANU-PF. There are cases where voters have been “assisted” to vote. Like how disorderly is that? Such conduct will need to be scrutinized.

The voters’ roll has always been a bone of contention over the past years, and still continues to be. It is one of the key areas where the ruling party has managed to tilt the elections in their favour. Over the past years, this record of the electorate has been inaccurate, has had exclusions and included names of the deceased. This time around, the Biometric Voter Registration has been introduced to redress this situation and there is a brand new voters’ roll. However some think that it is prone to manipulation as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has not been open about the storage of data. Audits must be carried out to ensure transparency.

The media continues to be polarized towards favouring the ruling party. And when we say media we are talking about the state media. Well, and other forms of media. The Herald and ZBC TV continue to report negatively on the opposition. Of late, ZBC has been improving, as it is giving coverage to some opposition too. But the issue of the media is one big problem as we gear towards the elections.

As I read the Big Saturday Read last week, I got to learn of what is called the National Logistics Committee. (Read more about it here.) The NLC is a committee of ZEC that controls the elections, in essence. Most of its members are senior government officials drawn from various ministries. It is the face of the government in running ZEC and seriously undermines the independence of ZEC.

An election is a process, not an event. These are areas where one wonders if the election will be free and fair. Will we be branded like Libya for failing to hold elections in a free and fair way? President Mnangagwa has been on a charm offensive, saying that the election will be free and fair, but is his team prepared for that? What if they lose power, will they hand it to the victor? The system is still the same!

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