Stung by sharp criticism over its rushed decision to report MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa to the police on possible violation of the electoral law, while sparing his main rival for similar violations, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) was yesterday forced to do some serious damage control to save face.
This came after Zec’s acting chief elections officer, Utoile Silaigwana, told a news conference on Sunday night that the MDC Alliance presidential candidate had been reported to the police for holding an illegal press conference on Sunday at Meikles Hotel after the deadline for political campaigns.
The Electoral Act decrees that political parties should wrap-up their campaigns 48 hours before polling day.
Silaigwana had told the Sunday night press briefing that Chamisa had blatantly breached provisions of the Electoral Act Fourth Schedule (Section 160A, Clause 7(1)(B) but did not mention electoral infractions by President Emmerson Mnangagwa over remarks he made in response to his former boss Robert Mugabe’s public declaration that he would vote for Chamisa.
In a widely circulated post, Mnangagwa claimed remarks by his predecessor that Zimbabweans must vote against his administration and bring the country back to constitutionality proved that Chamisa was in an alliance with Mugabe and that “the choice is clear, you either vote for Mugabe under the guise of Chamisa or you vote for a new Zimbabwe under my leadership and the Zanu PF”.
After reporting Chamisa to the police while sparing Mnangagwa, Zec came under heavy criticism from a cross-section of Zimbabweans, the international press and the local media, as well as from observers for selectively applying the law.
This was also amplified by the MDC Alliance, which was quick to accuse Zec of bias.
Faced by mounting controversy over the move, Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba claimed yesterday that both presidential candidates had been reported to the police, while staying clear of earlier pronouncements by her acting chief elections officer.
“On 29 July 2018 at least two of the presidential candidates published statements which were published in the media which can be interpreted as campaigning,” Chigumba said.
“These matters have been referred to the attention of the police to investigate if in fact these candidates were in violation of the Electoral Act. All political parties have been advised to uphold what they signed in the code of conduct”.
Zec’s volte face came amid withering grassroots public pressure from thousands of people, strongly expressed on social media, raising wider questions over the credibility of the electoral commission, plagued by allegations by bias.
Reached for comment yesterday, Silaigwana was singing a different tune, saying “we never singled out anyone”.
“The chairperson clearly stated two hours ago that two candidates had been reported to the police. We have alerted the police,” he told the Daily News.
Contacted for comment yesterday, police spokesperson Charity Charamba first inquired if Chigumba had stated which department the matter was reported to, before asking for time to check details of the case.
At the time of going to print, she said she had failed to get a brief from the officer commanding province (ProPol).
Responding to the move by Zec to file a report against Chamisa, the MDC Alliance leader’s legal advisor Thabani Mpofu said: “That’s nonsense on stilts.”
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said reporting Chamisa to the police was a desperate move by the ruling party, which controls the levers of the State, to get the 40-year-old opposition leader out of the presidential race.
“Seems somewhat desperate to try and have an opponent disqualified on these grounds, and patently ridiculous in the face of multiple alleged breaches by Zanu PF as evidenced through the manipulation of State resources,” Pigou said.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said: “This is all last minute fire and brimstone. It will mean nothing as the big picture unfolds.”