As Zimbabwe prepares for its first Mugabe-free election in four decades at the end of July, opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party are already alleging election fraud by incumbent interim president Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Voice of America News reported a massive march on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on Wednesday:
Thousands of MDC supporters in the party’s red colors and holding placards that read ‘No Reforms, No Elections’ and ‘No to vote rigging’ marched to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in Harare, where MDC leaders handed in a petition with their demands.
“ZANU-PF is shamelessly trying to steal the election by using ZEC,” Costa Machingauta, an MDC member of parliament told the crowd.
The MDC is wary of any attempt to put it at a disadvantage to Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF, insisting there be a deal on how to design, print and store ballot papers.
Chamisa is essentially threatening to take control of the election away from the ZEC because Mnangagwa and his party are receiving assistance from Russian experts to create phony ballots. Chamisa said German forensic scientists are standing by to thwart this plan, as quoted by the Harare Herald:
“They (ZEC and Zanu-PF) want to change the ballot paper,” he said.
“Right now they have Russians. I am being told by insiders and soldiers. I am watching them and if they are helping Zanu-PF on elections then we have an issue with that.
“Sovereignty of the country doesn’t allow to have foreigners coming to interfere with our electoral processes. We are taking up that matter and we are not going to budge.”
He went on: “We have our scientists from Germany who will do forensic testing of every ballot paper to be used in the election. Our ballot is a security issue, elections are a national security issue. Respect the people of Zimbabwe.”
If the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission doesn’t respond to his allegations, Chamisa said he would take control of the process and announce his inevitable victory early:
“We are going for elections and we have already won,” said Mr Chamisa.
“After voting, we will converge at a place we will announce. We will announce the election (results) to you. We are going to tell you the election results because we do not trust ZEC to announce accurate results. It is us who are going to announce and we have set up the machinery in here and outside the country to tabulate the results,” he said.
And if that does not work, Chamisa said anarchy is in the cards:
“We are now assessing the situation and after dialogue with ZEC this week, if there is no movement, we will not sleep,” he said.
“We will camp here in Harare. This is the last demonstration where we are returning home. Going forward no one will go back home after demonstrating. The whole country will be here. We will close our homes and camp here.”
He claimed they had approached the United Nations, the African Union and Sadc to lodge their grievances.
“We took up the matter with them and if they don’t respond, we will become our own answer,” he said.
“To become our own answer means we will take the fight to the end.”
Another opposition leader, former finance minister Tendai Biti of the People’s Democratic Party, ominously declared, “We are prepared to die for this cause; we are prepared to be arrested. We will make sure that the elections will not be stolen this time around.”
Zanu-PF officials accused Chamisa of hallucinating the Russian ballot conspiracy and mocked him for dropping a number of minor nuisance complaints he had filed. “He has moved from infinity grievances against ZEC down to two. We expect his next demonstration will be over grievance number zero,” chortled Mnangagwa press secretary George Charamba.
According to the Herald, Zimbabwean diplomats said Chamisa was unable to get anyone at the African Union or SADC (the Southern African Development Community) to take his accusations seriously.
On the other hand, those long familiar with Zimbabwean politics note that it is not exactly far-fetched to think the election could be tampered with, even though the MDC has not been a terribly effective opposition party and Mnangagwa appears to be comfortably in the lead. Zanu-PF remains enormously powerful, Zimbabwean political culture remains toxic, and the MDC has been divided since the death of longtime leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
Zimbabwean elections have been rigged with foreign assistance before. Many in the MDC believe Mugabe only held onto power after a stiff challenge from Tsvangirai in 2008 because the ZEC sat on the election results long enough for Mugabe’s thugs to terrorize the populace into submission.
The European Union observer mission to Zimbabwe issued a statement last week calling the 2018 elections a “critical test of Zimbabwe’s reform process” and calling for “transparency and inclusivity, confidence in the integrity of the voter roll, emphasis on secrecy of the vote and the peaceful conduct of the polls.”
The E.U. and other outside groups will be allowed to monitor the Zimbabwean election for the first time in 16 years. MDC supporters urged outside observers to take suspicions of vote-rigging seriously, citing the size of Wednesday’s demonstration in Harare as evidence the chargers are serious.