MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa yesterday disclosed that he had triggered a regional diplomatic offensive to pressure Sadc to convene an urgent extra-ordinary summit on “the Zimbabwean crisis”, particularly on issues around transparency in the printing of the ballot paper and voters’ roll.
Chamisa told journalists that Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba’s “intransigence” over the printing of the ballot paper and voters’ roll had forced the opposition to seek regional intervention as the election date was fast drawing closer.
“We had noted 10 demands and scaled this down to two minimum flash points or red line issues, including the voters’ roll and the ballot. These are crucial that we will not negotiate. Chigumba has said these issues are water under the bridge, but she is mistaken if she thinks these issues will go away,” Chamisa said.
“We will not take anything lying (down). We will not accept a ballot paper that is not to our satisfaction. If we are to agree to an election, we must have a ballot paper printed according to the law.
“This is the dispute, we have a stalemate and we have a crisis. We cannot have an election when we don’t know where the ballot paper is, who has printed it and its quality. I have no evidence that the ballot paper was printed in Zimbabwe. That makes it a very serious matter.”
High-level sources within the MDC Alliance also revealed that Chamisa’s team had met various “key embassies” representing regional countries and written to Sadc chairperson, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who acknowledged receipt.
“Initially, we wanted to send out envoys, but the situation deteriorated so quickly, especially after the Bulawayo incident (police postal voting fiasco) to the point where we now want direct diplomacy,” NewsDay heard.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko could not be reached for comment yesterday and had not responded to questions e-mailed to him by the time of going to print last night.
While Zec insists it has acted within the confines of the law and has no legal obligation to allow political parties access to the ballot printing, Chamisa argued the Constitution allowed for candidates to have “reasonable access” to voter material and information, including the ballot.
“If I don’t have access to processes on the ballot paper printing, then I have been denied my constitutional rights. That must be respected,” he said.
The 40-year-old opposition leader said besides the Sadc approach, he would continue engaging Zec, other political parties as well as convening a nationwide consultative process to resolve the impasse.
The opposition, Chamisa said, was also consulting stakeholders across the country to find a solution to “the crisis.”
Chamisa said he had dedicated this week to dealing with the electoral conundrum.
“We are utilising this week for that process, hoping there will be an understanding, particularly on the ballot paper. We will not boycott this election. We are going to use our constitutional rights to make sure any negated or perforated process will not take place,” he said.
The opposition leader dismissed claims that he was sending mixed signals to his supporters.
“Our people are clear and they are with us. We don’t want to educate our people on cheating and deception,” he said.
But Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said Zanu PF was not bothered by Chamisa’s antics.
“It is not our responsibility to direct Chamisa on who to write letters or send envoys to. He can write to anyone, including hell for all we care. It is also not our responsibility to teach Chamisa words to describe our electoral processes. He can describe them whichever way he feels, we can’t teach him English,” he said.
Harare lawyer and political analyst Sitembile Mpofu said while Chamisa had a right to appeal to anyone, local or international, Zimbabwe needed a chance to move forward after decades of political impasse.
“It is within the rights of any political party to make an appeal to whichever body they feel may help them find remedy for their grievances. However, Zimbabwe must be given an opportunity to move forward as a nation. The country has been held hostage by politics and politicians for more than two decades.
“Political parties contesting this election must be able to see beyond their bid for power and put the plight of the Zimbabwean people first,” Mpofu said.
Another analyst Maxwell Saungweme agreed with Chamisa that indeed Zimbabwe was in the throes of a deep crisis.
“We do have a very big crisis if the MDC Alliance has evidence about the alleged rigging machinations. Chamisa has indeed rattled Zanu PF. If Chamisa and Zimbabweans can do the demonstrations they are promising in a sustained manner, then the Crocodile (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) has no option, but to oblige,” he said.
“So the diplomatic onslaught from Chamisa is meant to pile pressure on Mnangagwa to bow down and negotiate.
“Sadly, this will lead to a negotiated government of national unity while we go back to the drawing board to put tangible electoral reforms as the reforms the MDC wants need more time and can’t be done overnight,” Saungweme said.
But University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Lawrence Mhandara accused Chamisa of creating a “crisis where there is none”.
“Crisis, no. I do not think we have a crisis, but one deeply-bound within the MDC Alliance and its leader (Chamisa) that Zec is pro-Zanu PF, has failed and cannot be trusted to deliver a free, fair and credible poll. I think it is not widespread within the opposition given pronouncements from other parties, including The MDC-T (led by Thokozani Khupe) indicating Zec is doing a good job,” he said.
“The idea of approaching Sadc implies that the MDC Alliance has exhausted internal remedies which I don’t think they have. The Constitution and the Electoral Act provide for mechanisms for dispute resolution and I think this move is unstrategic given the general opinion that the electoral environment in Zimbabwe has significantly changed for the better.”