Some have referred to the upcoming Zimbabwe general election as the most critical since 1980.
This is perhaps the case for two critical reasons, one being that this is the first election without Robert Mugabe as a Presidential Candidate and the other being that it is the first election following a defacto coup of November 17 (to bring back legitimacy).
The actual significance of this election as compared to previous elections is nothing to write home about, really. Whatever this election presents, the most important is that it comes on backdrop of a serious public relations campaign by the ‘not-so new dispensation’ which sought (and still does) to distinguish itself from the erstwhile Robert Mugabe led Zanu PF regime.
Following the coup, the ‘new’ leaders embarked on a diplomatic offensive, reaching out to both the East and the West with a message promising a new hope for a new Zimbabwe which would be undersigned by the holding of a free, fair and credible election. And so was the belief.
Alas, five days before the election, there are still a number of sticking points and irregularities likely to jeopardize the image that this election would have created in the eyes of the international community.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has failed to ensure that the playing field is level and has surely failed to heed the calls for transparency in the printing and distribution of the ballot paper. ZEC’s voters’ roll has also been largely discredited, talk of ghost voters, irregular addresses, duplication and even containing some of the oldest people on earth since the biblical times. ZEC has failed to garner the people’s confidence in the electoral system. Some presidential candidates have withdrawn even, some are contemplating to and others are planning to pile more pressure to ensure transparency.
A new dispensation it is, where police ban a planned demonstration on the basis that the party has previously had two demos on the same matter. Cry Freedom of Assembly Cry.
It is only in Zimbabwe where matters of law are given the weirdest of interpretations. The right to freedom of assembly is a fundamental right pertinent to the exercise of a conglomerate of other civil and political rights. The limitations thereof, can only be reasonable limitations. The law requires anyone who intends to exercise this right to notify the police.
According to the African Commission Guidelines on Freedom of Assembly in Africa, parties who intend to participate in an assembly may be required to place a notification with relevant authorities for purposes of public order and safety however, lack of notification does not deem an assembly illegal.
In Zimbabwe, the notification requirement is misconstrued by the police as a request for permission. It is what it is. A notification. Thanks to the draconian and unconstitutional Public Order and Security Act (POSA) this requirement has a whole other meaning. We are heading for another shameful election.
Forget the observers, forget SADC or the AU, forget the Elders.
Only the people can decide their future.
Simbarashe Tembo is a Law PhD Candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Constitutional and Human Rights Law) firstname.lastname@example.org