The just ended by-elections in Matabeleland North have once again cast the spotlight on the urgent need for comprehensive political reforms in Zimbabwe.
The by-elections were held in Lupane East constituency, Ward 22 at Bubi constituency and at Ward 23 at Nkayi South Constituency.
Indeed, in all the three separate by-elections, what is emerging clearly as the decisive factor is coercion and manipulation. The electoral process in Zimbabwe is neither credible nor free and fair.
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Instead, what we still have in place is an electoral process dominated by other factors whose net effect is to leave everything heavily skewed in favour of Zanu PF.
Indeed, what is apparent in these particularly recent by-elections is that the MDC did everything it could in the most difficult of circumstances; but in the end, it was clear that the odds were heavily stacked against the voters in the villages.
In particular, the MDC conducted one of its most comprehensive ward level door-to-door campaigns. lt also maintained a much higher than usual level of local visibility as evidenced by a large number of campaign teams that it deployed across all the wards.
But still, despite such a marked rise in the level of investment in the recent campaigns, the will of the people was not reflected in the by-elections.
The people of Matabeleland North who voted for the MDC must be saluted for the resisting all the obstacles and going against all odds to support change in Zimbabwe.
What Zanu PF has decided to do is to invest more on various intimidatory tactics that have in effect engineered a lot of fear in the rural electorate.
lndeed, it is crucial to consider the outcome of the three by-elections, in the context of the following decisive factors among others:
1. Vote Buying
Over the years, Zanu PF has perfected the art of massive vote-buying. Its electoral strategy is built on the distribution of some material benefits during its campaigns.
The most obvious of these is the food parcels that are shared freely to the prospective voters. This is a very crucial factor when considers the deep level of poverty and higher exposure to hunger in the rural parts of Zimbabwe.
Food is being used as a political weapon against citizens so vulnerable to hunger and poverty.
2. Systematic intimidation
Zanu PF has also perfected the art of systematic intimidation of voters. The strategy of intimidation is mostly enforced by such crucial local institutions as the traditional leaders, who always ensure that all their subjects vote for Zanu PF as a community.
At times, various forms of violence are also used to intimidate the voters. ln resettlement areas, local residents have very limited land ownership rights. This is used effectively to force them to vote for Zanu PF.
A case in point is a ward where all the people were given notices (elaborate)
3. Abuse of State Resources
Zanu PF also usually abuses all the available State institutions or resources to consolidate its electoral campaign strategy.
All the relevant parastatals like ZBC, Zimpapers, GMB, ZESA, ZUPCO, etc are always thrown into the fray. A recent court judgment confirmed that State media was systematically used to favour Zanu PF, while also undermining the MDC at the same time. Civil servants such as the local District Administrators and security personnel such as those from the CIO and ZRP, also play a crucial role in the roll-out of the Zanu PF campaign strategy
4. A Compromised ZEC
The other crucial factor is the apparent lack of independence of the electoral commission, ZEC. This starts with the budget allocation process, the appointment of both staff and commissioners.
ln this regard, a lot of State security personnel have already been deployed to the ZEC Secretariat. Further, ZEC deliberately avoids being open or transparent in the way it conducts its operations.
For example, the voter registration process always has problematic issues. Related to that, the voters roll is not readily available to the opposition.
Worse still, during election day some voters have turned away after being told their names are no longer appearing or they are in another polling station.
lt is the time that ZEC underwent major reforms to make it more independent or professional just like its counterpart in South Africa, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)
So in other words, what we currently have is an electoral system that may not necessarily be capable of reflecting the democratic will of the majorities.
The on-going participation of the MDC in the by-elections should be used to actively highlight the urgent need for comprehensive reforms.
The MDC already has a plan in place. The plan is the recently launched RELOAD strategic document.
RELOAD is a roadmap that seeks to ensure that Zimbabwe finally evolves out of its perennial crisis mode into a truly free, democratic and prosperous country
MDC Secretary for Elections