By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
19 March 2014
A three day conference called by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to review the disputed 2013 polls opened in Harare Wednesday, but officials from the electoral body said they will not be taking any questions.
Chairperson Justice Rita Makarau reportedly told her subordinates not to answer any questions on last year’s election in which ZEC announced President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party winners. SW Radio Africa correspondent Simon Muchemwa said a senior ZEC official, Joyce Kazembe, confirmed to him that they will not be taking questions for the rest of the conference. ‘Kazembe said ZEC officials are going to be by standers just listening to complaints and criticism,’ said Muchemwa.
The audience, who included representatives from various civil society groups and journalists, were taken aback by the ban on questions. Muchemwa said many people expected ‘constructive and frank exchanges between the ZEC officials and the audience.’ Announcing the conference last week ZEC said the event’s purpose was to discuss the lessons learnt and how to improve the conduct of the elections. Chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi was quoted saying the commission intended to ‘sit down with the stakeholders and review’ the elections.
Muchemwa said out of all the speakers, who included Makarau and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, it was only the National Constitutional Assembly leader Lovemore Madhuku who took questions. Madhuku said, among other things, it was illegal for ZEC to deny people in the Diaspora the right to vote.
The refusal to answer questions is not surprising as ZEC has been criticized globally for the way it has handled polls, including the July 31st election.
Despite the African Union endorsing the election as ‘free, honest and credible’ few believe that Mugabe won the poll. ZEC and Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede have still not made public the electronic copy of the voters roll that was used, as required by law. Last year Makarau told ZAPU leader Dumiso Dabengwa that the electronic copy will not be available anytime soon.
Meanwhile civil society in Malawi is calling for more vigilance ahead of the May election which the opposition fear could be rigged because of the involvement of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission .
Three weeks ago the Malawian Electoral Commission (MEC) confirmed that it is consulting the discredited ZEC, sparking an outcry from activists and opposition parties. It was reported that the influential Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace said it was ‘on the alert’ because of MEC’s association with ZEC.
This week Malawi Watch Executive Director Billy Banda said there is tension in the country because of a rumored high presence of Zimbabweans, believed to be officials from ZEC. Speaking on SW Radio Africa’s Cutting Edge programme Banda said speculation is rife that dozens of ZEC officials are in the country and are living luxuriously at the expense of the tax payer. He called for local and international observer missions to be vigilant because there are fears that the May 20th polls will be rigged in favour of President Joyce Banda.
The concerns of the Malawian opposition are compounded by the fact Banda is one of the African leaders who publicly congratulated Mugabe for ‘winning’ the July 31st poll.