Thursday, July 26, 2018

How Zec has failed the credibility test

Views
WE have projected and forecast, analysed and pontificated on the elections and in four days’ time this comes to an end, as Zimbabweans will have their say on who their next leader is.
By Nqaba Matshazi
These elections were supposed to be a referendum on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, and if he were to win, they would have given him that legitimacy he has craved for since last November’s coup.
A big impediment to Mnangagwa’s quest for legitimacy is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), who seem to be doing their utmost best to erode the credibility of the elections and undermine whoever will win.
Zec seem not to have a coherent communications strategy and are blindly lurching from one controversy to the next and they could have better handled the controversies that came their way.
The first bone of contention for me is the postal ballot question, where the right hand seemed not to know what the left hand was doing.
The conduct of postal voting is that those who applied for it, should receive their ballots at their residences and then send them back, but there was something equivalent of a scandal that unfolded in Bulawayo a few weeks ago.
When confronted with questions, Zec bosses gave contradictory statements, with Utloile Silaigwana, in particular, being left with a giant rotten egg on his face after a bizarre statement attributed to him was published by State media.
Zec may have been sticking to their timelines and following the spirit of the law, but the way they handled the matter was shambolic and if it were any other country, there would have been mass resignations.
Then Zec boss, Priscilla Chigumba, when asked about ballot printing, said council ballots had only been printed for Bulawayo at the time the police cast their postal ballots, an illogical response as they come.
Postal ballots, by nature, are for people on government duty, who will not be able to cast their ballots from their constituencies they are registered in because of deployment.

So, a police officer can be registered in Kwekwe for example, but be based in Bulawayo, justifying the need for a postal ballot.
In this case, if Zec printed ballots for Bulawayo only, it means the police officer in the above scenario would have been disenfranchised.
And, does it make sense for Zec to print ballots per province?
Zec has been averse to criticism and calls for more transparency have been rebuffed by claims that the electoral body is sticking to the law.
It is fine and dandy to stick to the law, but I doubt it would have hurt the body to allow political parties to test ballot papers, for example, to put the issue of “chromatography” to rest.
The opposition allege that on some ballot marks can migrate from one candidate to the other and Zec would have done well to dispel the claims.
They may be right on legal principle, but the reality is that such obstinacy makes Zec look very opaque and unable to run a credible election.
Also, the opposition have demanded to be part of the transporting of the ballots, but Zec has bluntly refused this request, basing their refusal on the law.
You would think the law is very rigid, when an argument can be made that when our lawmakers made some of these laws, their intention was to make the voting process as transparent as possible and there would be no harm in the electoral body acquiescing to some of these demands.
Again, I doubt Zec would lose anything if the opposition witnessed the printing, tested the ballots and observed their transportation.
By doing so, they would have ensured that in the event that the opposition lost in next week’s elections, they would not cry foul.
But as it is, the opposition have legitimate claims and were they to lose, it is not inconceivable to imagine that they will not accept the results and Mnangagwa can wave goodbye to the legitimacy he desperately craves for.
Chigumba and her colleagues could have taken a leaf from Zambia, which has allowed the opposition to observe ballot printing and the tendering process all in the name of transparency.
Zec would have won plaudits for just these simple acts, but now the body seems very opaque and in the eyes of the opposition, this is because they believe it is doing the bidding of Zanu PF.
Then there was the issue of cellphone numbers that Zanu PF “miraculously” acquired and used to send targeted and very specific messages to recipients and bizarrely Zec claimed these numbers could have been taken from service providers.
Now, our mobile network operators are quite averse to adverse publicity and they all issued statements denying they had done so.
Instead of Zec introspecting, they made the most incredulous claims that people leave their numbers at so many places like supermarkets and these could have been used by Zanu PF.
It seems the elections management body found themselves in a hole and instead of doing the logical thing, they found themselves digging themselves deeper into the dirt.
It would be remiss for me to conclude this article without talking about the infamous “scarf-gate”, which raised a furore after Chigumba was pictured wearing a scarf that is synonymous with Mnangagwa and Zanu PF.
I will start with Chigumba, when she was asked about that, she said she wore the scarf before she was appointed Zec boss, but that is far from the truth, as the picture was taken on February 5 and she was appointed to the position at the tail-end of January.
So, if Chigumba can be dishonest about this, what else is she being economical with the truth about?
Then there is her subordinate, Qhubani Moyo — who seems to have taken up the mantle of being the commission’s spokesman and is doing a terrible job at it — who claimed the picture had been “photoshopped”.
He even posted a picture with circles pointing to where the picture had been manipulated and I can imagine the embarrassment he must have suffered when Chigumba conceded that the picture was indeed genuine.
If Moyo had been any wiser, he would not have been in a hurry to claim the picture was manipulated, instead, a good communicator, would have investigated and sought to find out the truth before saying the first thing that came to his mind.
Instead, he rushed to issue a statement and in so doing, he lied and he was exposed that he is out of his depth as a communications person for any organisation.
He was supposed to uphold Zec’s integrity, but he has brought the commission into disrepute and his fig leaf was that this was said in jest.
Again, this goes to the root of Zec’s credibility or lack of it.
There are things that Zec has done well, improved on from the last election, but their failure on transparency means they have been found wanting and have given losers a chance to challenge the outcome of elections, putting the credibility of these polls at serious risk.