MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa is prepared to go to jail or die fighting for a free and fair election, which he said was now unlikely due to an alleged “unholy” alliance between the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the ruling Zanu PF.
Addressing a media briefing in Harare yesterday, Chamisa said the alliance will soon dispatch emissaries across the region to coax regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), to intervene.
The alliance consists of seven parties.
Chamisa said while the MDC was railroaded into elections in 2013, this time they will make sure President Emmerson Mnangagwa is made to accept the wishes of the masses.
“We are not going to repeat the mistake of 2013; we would rather be in the grave or in prison if they go ahead (with the polls without reforms). I am a young man and have youth on my side, I am prepared to go all the way,” said Chamisa.
The former students leader, who is 40 years old, and is also Mnangagwa’s main challenger, spoke a few minutes after the army pledged to respect the Constitution and abide by the outcome of the general elections due on July 30.
Twenty-one other presidential aspirants are also running for the high-pressure job.
Chamisa said he has tremendous respect for the army and sees it not as an obstacle to his becoming the country’s next president.
“We are being tempted into saying that the current Zec and its commissioners are incompetent (in managing) the electoral process and we are being tempted (to) engaging Sadc,” he said.
“There should be a difference between Zanu PF and Zec. Zec is choosing to throw away the whistle or go out of the stadium and have the other party as the referee … they can never be an election without an agreed ballot. Zanu PF is not complaining because they are part of this thing”.
The MDC Alliance president said anything short of a free, fair and credible election — as envisaged by the country’s Constitution — will not be allowed to take place in Zimbabwe, adding that in the absence of procedural certainty, verifiability of the election will be put into question.
“If the content and process of this election does not pass these key requirements, then there will be no election. In 2018, our country certainly does not afford yet another disputed election lest our people begin to lose hope in democracy as a system of governance.
“Our people are tired and cannot take it anymore. We are therefore prepared to defend our people’s right to a free, fair and credible election in Zimbabwe,” said Chamisa.
The alliance is demanding a fresh “inclusive transparent process of designing, printing, storing and distributing of ballot papers”, agreed by all stakeholders.
It is also pushing for a meeting with Zec to resolve the stalemate and also “an urgent meeting with Mnangagwa, in his capacity as head of State and candidate” in the forthcoming election.
Describing Mnangagwa as “childish”, after his spokesperson George Charamba leaked a letter in which the opposition was requesting a meeting with the Zanu PF leader, Chamisa said he still intends to meet with his counterpart to resolve the impasse that has been caused by Zec’s “opaqueness” in printing ballot papers.
“We will not allow Mnangagwa and his friends to get away with murder … but we will not boycott the election, we will only make sure that they will not be an illegitimate election.
“It is clear that we have an election process stalemate arising out of the ballot scandal and the voters’ roll inadequacies and omissions. This has culminated in an election crisis.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we do not and will not accept the current ballot paper that has been printed without our participation,” said Chamisa.
In the wake of Zec’s refusal to bow down to pressure from political parties that are pushing for a level playing field ahead of month-end polls, the MDC Alliance is now taking to the streets to press for reforms.
In an interview with the Daily News on Tuesday, Nkululeko Sibanda — the spokesperson for MDC Alliance leader — said there was no way their party and the people of Zimbabwe would participate in yet another sham election.
He said the people of Zimbabwe will stage demonstrations countrywide that will cripple the forthcoming elections if Zec remains intransigent.
“We are not going to allow the election to be rigged. Zec should be prepared for the worst. There is no other remedy but to ensure that the elections are free and fair and to set such conditions that enable free and fair elections.
“Zec should deliver free and fair elections or resign altogether to allow for a non-partisan and independent commission to run the elections. Zimbabweans have a right to demand free and fair elections and we will take action if there are no reforms, there is no other way round,” said Sibanda.
On Tuesday, Sibanda said Zec should not be under any illusion about the MDC’s determination to prove a point, adding that it was not only Mnangagwa who has the powers to stop an election.
“Zec should not dance to Mnangagwa’s tune. It is clear that Mnangagwa is a weak president and runs an unstable government. However, that should not allow him to be in the business of causing anarchy in the country, we have the capacity, Zimbabweans have the capacity to stop these elections if reforms are not met,” said Sibanda.
Since attaining independence from the British in 1980, Zimbabwe’s elections have always been marred by cases of electoral malpractices, including violence and human rights abuses.
In a bid to turn a new page, Mnangagwa, who worked under Mugabe’s shadows for nearly six decades, has promised a free and fair election.
Mnangagwa has invited several countries such the United States to observe this year’s elections and has gone a step further by pledging to accept the people’s will.
The former vice president, who was Mugabe’s chief election agent when the Zanu PF regime went on a war of retribution against civilians who had voted for the opposition in 2008, says he is a changed man, although the institutions he inherited from the Mugabe era are still intact, his opponents say.
The MDC is not convinced.
It argues that Mnangagwa has no power to ensure that the military, whose generals have previously aligned themselves with Zanu PF, stay away from politics.
The MDC also claims that Priscilla Chigumba, the Zec chairperson, was working along with Zanu PF which has not raised a single complaint against the commission notwithstanding glaring irregularities such as the existence of people aged over 140 years on the voters’ roll.
The party has also disputed claims by Zec that it has availed a voters’ roll and is ready to include the opposition in some of the critical electoral signposts such as the printing and securing of ballot papers.
On Tuesday, the MDC’s chief election agent Jameson Timba told the media that although they were taken to a government-run company which is printing the ballot papers, they never came close to the actual printing of the ballot itself.
He said despite assurances that political parties were going to be allowed to observe the printing of ballot papers, Zec invited parties to the printers three days after the printing had already commenced.
Further, he said no observation was allowed but instead parties were just pointed, at a distance, through glasses of the purported printing process.
“ … and no printed ballot paper was inspected, the actual quality and features of the ballot paper are not known other than a blank sample of what looks like a gift-wrapping paper, the design of the ballot paper is not known, the print-run for the ballot papers is not known by anyone other than Zec and Mnangagwa as a candidate because his government owns and controls the printer, whether that was the actual printing process and not just an act is not known, whether the people who were purportedly working on the printers are employees of Fidelity Printers is not known. Whether Fidelity Printers has not been hijacked is also not known, as it stands only Mnangagwa and (Zec chairperson Priscilla) Chigumba know the quality, design, quantity of the ballot paper,” Timba said.
“Our own random audit has unearthed scandalous and embarrassing details on the voters’ roll. We have discovered some of the oldest people on our voters’ roll aged around 150 years old who don’t exist. We have discovered many houses that have tens of people registered but the houses do not exist. We have discovered many people with the same IDs … as it stands only Mnangagwa and Chigumba know about the alleged secret ballots that are reported to have been imported from Russia over the weekend,” said Timba.
But in a statement, Chigumba said some parties were now demanding more than what the Electoral Law provides for but acknowledged that the political parties that went to observe the printing of the ballot papers did not get close to the action to get all the nuts and bolts.
“Whilst there is no legal obligation which compels the commission to invite stakeholders to the printing process, the commission saw it fit to allow stakeholders to witness the process in order to dispel unfounded and misleading myths. However, the commission noted with concern demands by some political parties to get very close to the printing machines which are located in an area with high security documents belonging to other clients,” said Chigumba.
While Zec did not respond to allegations of centenarians on the voters’ roll, it said the use of the same residential address in Chitungwiza stems from the fact that at least 122 people registered to vote using the address of a church shrine.
“It should be noted that the use of affidavits as residential address can have many registered voters,” said Chigumba.