Free and fair might be a far-fetched description of Zimbabwe’s election today, according to a researcher, citing old Zanu-PF habits and a new threat to the credibility of the hailed Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system.
Derek Matyszak, a Harare based senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, pointed out a major concern with the BVR system which has, to date, not been confirmed by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to have been run against official data to remove any duplication of voters.
“What I think is a major scandal here is that one of the grounds upon which the elections will be considered free and fair is the assurance that there would be a new and accurate voters’ roll and the reason why it will be so accurate is because they have used biometric data capturing,” said Matyszak.
“The problem is that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has not run the fingerprint ID system on the voters’ roll.
“They spent a lot of money putting the system in place and gathering the data, but it would have taken six weeks of continuous running of the computers to compare all 57 million fingerprints and it seems they simply ran out of time.”
Matyszak claims the ZEC has failed to confirm whether the process was completed.
The introduction of this system was widely welcomed because it was seen to be an improvement in the election process.
This was mainly because it would get rid of the old recycled voters’ roll which had been at the centre of Zimbabwe’s electoral disputes in the past.
Matyszak said the commission’s refusal to produce the logs proving that the fingerprints were checked against their database “doesn’t say much about the independence of the ZEC”.
Meanwhile, former president Robert Mugabe yesterday surprised his fellow citizens with an impromptu press conference on the eve of the country’s first election without him since he came into power in 1980.
His laboured utterings included an apparent endorsement for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Speaking of the Zanu-PF party which orchestrated what stopped short of a military coup last year, Mugabe said the party and its new leader Emmerson Mganangwa could no longer be trusted.
“I cannot vote for those who Coverage has been shamelessly favouring Zanu-PF Emmerson Mnangagwa Nelson Chamisa have tormented me,” he said, “I’ll make my choice among the other 22. The two women did not seem to pop out very much so what is there … it is just (Nelson) Chamisa.”
Chamisa, 40, who was mentored by the late founder of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangarai, just qualified to run on his birthday in February this year.
Elections campaigns have been considered relatively peaceful compared to those in the past and, for the first time, public broadcasters were allowed to air opposition campaign adverts and content.
A record 23 candidates are competing in these elections, all first-time contenders. But Matyszak argued that all may seem peaceful and free on the surface, but structural problems posed a threat to voter freedom.
The main problem was the continued control that ZanuPF held over state electronic media which was the main source of information, particularly in the rural areas.
“While it is state media funded by tax payers and is supposed to be impartial, the coverage of the campaigns so far has been shamelessly and primarily favouring Zanu-PF,” he said.