Earlier this year, the EU lifted a number of sanctions on Zimbabwe following the implementation of a new constitution, to widespread international acclaim. Since then, however, the constitution and everything it stands for, has been totally disregarded by the country’s leader, Robert Mugabe.
Allegations of vote rigging are nothing new in certain African countries, as elsewhere. But even by previous standards, what has taken place in Zimbabwe with the voters rol,l and within the ‘early voting' over the last week, is a shocking reminder of the illegitimate manner in which President Mugabe continues to operate in total contempt of international law.
Whilst thankfully we have yet to see the violence that has dominated previous elections, intimidation, frustration, and manipulation of the electorate has been rife, particularly within the regions which traditionally support the leading Mugabe-opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This election faces the bleak possibility of being lost even before polling day through vote rigging and stuffed ballot boxes, without the smoking gun of violence.
During the registration process, many would-be voters found themselves standing in line for up to 12 hours to register, as the supposedly independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) deliberately scrutinised identification papers slowly and wastefully, rejecting many for the slightest of reasons. The whole process is hugely difficult and often impossible. One recent poll, conducted by campaign group Free Fair Zimbabwe, suggested that 27 per cent of those trying to register to vote were not able to. Separately, in pro-ZANU-PF districts, voter registration centres are well-staffed, and the process is straightforward and efficient.
The effect of this is deeply concerning: in one pro-MDC region, the number of voters registered in the 2008 election was 38,000. This year, it is 22,000. And there are other anomalies that indicate dark forces at work. Somehow, 120,000 Zimbabweans supposedly stationed outside the country on official business have registered for postal voting. In the 2008 elections, there were 5,000 applications for postal voting. Zimbabwe does not have anywhere near that number of foreign officials. To put this into context, the US only has 12,000 and South Africa only 1,000.
Last weekend, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission conducted a special voting process to allow those members of the police forces and security sector who will be deployed elsewhere during the polling to vote. It was claimed by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that 69,000 police officers have applied for special voting, yet there are only about 40,000 police officers registered in the country. Who are these extra 29,000?
Despite the recent removal of the names of many deceased individuals on the electoral roll, including that of the former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith, the list is still estimated to contain the names of at least an extra one million citizens who are now dead. With an extra two million ballot papers reported to have been printed by the ZEC, the expectation is that many of these papers will be stuffed into the ballot boxes using these ghost names.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has behaved in a manner that is unacceptable, illegal and in complete defiance of constitutional law. President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF have once again openly and blatantly distorted Zimbabwean law, ignored binding demands for social and legal reform in the country by the South African Development Community (SADC), thwarted a free and open media, and dashed genuine initiatives to enable a fair-and-free election in Zimbabwe.
The future of another generation of Zimbabweans looks depressingly bleak unless the international community doe verything in their power to hold President Mugabe and General Chiwenga, the head of the armed forces, accountable for their actions.