The shock resignation by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Rita Makarau — a mere eight months before the country holds its make-or-break national elections next year — has cast a huge shadow on the eagerly-awaited polls, which a fearful opposition want to be monitored by international observers.
Makarau — also a respected Supreme Court judge and the secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) — stunned the country on Friday when she abruptly resigned from her post without giving any reasons, amid a plethora of political conspiracies.
Well-placed sources at the Zec who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday also said Makarau’s unexpected departure had left a of lot of questions unanswered, as days before she quit she had been in jovial mood in meetings with stakeholders at the national elections management body.
“It appears as if she may have been pushed. Her email signalling her intention to resign came as a complete shock to us. It came after we had just had an important meeting with one of our stakeholders during the week, and there was no sign whatsoever that she was on her way out.
“In fact she was as calm and as cheerful as she always is. So, you can imagine our surprise when we received that email. It definitely suggested that she may have been pushed before she jumped.
“We are all trying to put the pieces together and make sense of everything, as her email never stated her reasons for that very sudden move,” one of the sources said.
New Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi confirmed Makarau’s resignation at the weekend and also said the Supreme Court judge had not given reasons for leaving the post.
In the meantime, her sudden departure has elicited myriad conspiracy theories, with the opposition and political analysts also warning that it is now “mandatory” that the international community watches over the 2018 polls which must be held by August next year.
It has also emerged that one of the opposition’s charges is that Makarau’s alleged forced resignation from Zec is meant to allow the current dominant faction in Zanu PF to “manipulate the vote” in its favour next year.
During the heights of the ugly factional brawling in the ruling party — which pitted the Generation 40 (G40) faction against the Team Lacoste camp, which was rooting for new President Emmerson Mnangagwa — Makarau was viewed favourably by the G40 group which wanted her to become the country’s chief justice after the late Godfrey Chidyausiku.
Matters came to a head during the interviews for that position when the two major Zanu PF factions fought ugly and open battles to have their preferred candidates take over from Chidyausiku.
In the end, Makarau came second to the country’s new CJ, Luke Malaba, while George Chiweshe — who was preferred by Team Lacoste pulled out of the selection process after it was challenged in the High Court.
Former deputy prime minister in Zimbabwe’s short-lived inclusive government, Arthur Mutambara, was among those who have claimed that Makarau may have been forced to resign from Zec due to factional interests in the ruling party.
“The electoral agenda should be to enable and facilitate free, fair and credible elections, and not settle Zanu PF factional disputes. The regime must reach out to civic society and the opposition parties and establish a clear and inclusive roadmap to free, fair and credible elections in 2018,” Mutambara said.
According to the Constitution, the head of Zec must be either a judge or a former judge, or a person who qualifies for appointment as a judge.
Professor of World Politics, Stephen Chan, said yesterday that the position of chairperson of Zec was pivotal, and required an appointment of the highest calibre and integrity.
“The international community will be looking to the elections as the clinching signal that Zimbabwe is climbing its way upwards to probity and transparency.
“If Zimbabwe wants to rejoin the Commonwealth and attract wider investment, there will have to be a Commonwealth Observer Group and, ideally, a European Observer Group, and they will scrutinise the Zec and its chair with attention to minute detail.
“The shortcomings of observer groups were exposed in Kenya, so they will arrive in Zimbabwe having upped their own game,” Chan told the Daily News On Sunday.
The country’s main opposition party, the MDC, said while it welcomed Makarau’s resignation, its suddenness was both a surprise and a concern.
“Rita Makarau’s resignation opens a can of worms. Why is she resigning just a few months before Election 2018?
“Has she been forced to resign? Was she pushing a factional agenda during her term of office as ZEC chairperson? Is she really her own person?” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu queried.
Makarau’s resignation came as Zec, as well as local election observer groups, are intensifying their efforts to have millions of prospective voters register in the ongoing biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise, which is now approaching its final phase.
Zimbabwe is using the BVR system for registration for next year’s elections for the first time.
Zec is targeting seven million voters for the current BVR registration exercise — ahead of the much-awaited 2018 polls, which could see Mnangagwa facing a grand coalition of opposition parties in that plebiscite.
The opposition and civic groups have also been agitating for sweeping electoral reforms ahead of the crunch elections which they say must be held in an environment which doesn’t promote disputes like what happened during the 2008 and 2013 polls.
In the hotly-disputed 2008 elections, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat former president Robert Mugabe hands down.
However, the results of those polls were withheld for six long weeks by stunned authorities, amid widespread allegations of ballot tampering and fraud which were later revealed by former bigwigs of the ruling party.
Mugabe’s defeat was widely blamed on an internal rebellion which was said to have been led by officials loyal to former vice president Joice Mujuru and her late husband Solomon — a plot that came to be known as Bhora Musango.
In the ensuing sham presidential run-off, which authorities claimed was needed to determine the winner, Zanu PF apparatchiks engaged in a murderous orgy of violence in which hundreds of Tsvangirai’s supporters were killed in cold blood, forcing the former prime minister in the inclusive government to withdraw from the discredited race altogether.
Mugabe went on to stand in a widely-condemned one-man race in which he declared himself the winner.
However, Sadc and the rest of the international community would have none of it, forcing the nonagenarian to share power with Tsvangirai for five years, to prevent the country from imploding completely.