R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
August 10, 2018
Elections: Time for dialogue on independent process

The recent elections in Zimbabwe has added to the overwhelming number of “democratic” elections the world over, clamoured for by the respective electorates, but the results of which are hotly, and often violently disputed by the losers. Zimbabwe, under its former ruler, Robert Mugabe, a hero of the liberation war which freed his country from oppressive white minority rule, had rapidly deteriorated from the “democratic” ideals which had justified the sacrifices of its people, to become a state where “crapaud smoke yo’ pipe” if you did not toe the line of Mugabe and company.

Mugabe’s overthrow by his former right-hand man, Emerson Mnangawa, was hailed, with notable reservations, as paving the way for a democratic path for his country. The holding of general elections was seen as integral to the process, and the invitation to foreign observers, previously opposed by Mugabe, was given as an indication that the country was on a democratic path.
But in spite of the endorsements of the Observer Missions, both before and after the polls, the Opposition accused President Mnanagawa’s party of rigging the elections and has refused to accept the results. Predictably, there have been violent clashes. Have we not heard and seen this before?

True, the situations may have been handled differently, whether as in Gore vs Bush in the USA in 2000, the 2017 elections in the UK or our own elections since 1998, but the outcome nearly always brings the same response – disgruntled losers, charging electoral fraud, whether justified or not. Sadly, but understandably, the fraud charges always come from the losers. Thus, in 2009, when Vincentian voters gave a resounding “NO” to the proposed new constitution, fraud was not an issue, but one year later when the ULP won the general elections, “dey teef” was the cry from the losing side. Never mind that it was the same voting machinery used.

The important thing is that the electoral processes in these “democratic” countries seem to leave the door open to all kinds of post-election challenges, skirmishes, clashes and deadly violence.

With the current government past its halfway term of office and given the ongoing challenges to the results of the 2015 elections here, should it not be opportune for us to reflect on the way forward? Should we, not just continue the strident fraud charges, as persons have every right to do, but begin to look at ways and means to make our electoral process more fair and, crucially, also accepted by the vast majority as one which meets our approval?

That is the conversation that we should be having NOW, as a nation. It is futile to wait until election is at our doorstep to make all sorts of demands. In a fiercely competitive atmosphere, neither side is prepared to listen to the other or engage in constructive dialogue. Supporters are whipped up to support their party, right or wrong. Do we have to wait until we reach that stage?

There is need to not only ensure that the election machinery is impartial, but more so that it is seen by the vast majority to be that way.

Attempts were made during the great constitutional reform process of 2003- 2009, to solicit views towards realising that goal. In fact, specific proposals were put forward in the draft constitution which were rejected in the referendum. We have since experienced two general elections under the old machinery, replete with all the allegations of fraud. Hundreds of hours have been expended in courts based on these allegations. As it is now, it seems that the only winners are the lawyers who have been absorbing millions of dollars both from tax-payers and private donors. What have we gained as a result?

Is it not time to take stock and try to fix what we perceive to be wrong; to try and come up with proposals acceptable to all political parties as well as the vast majority of voters, which will ensure a much more independent body in charge of elections? Or are we doomed to continue to repeat the errors and mistakes of the past?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.