EDITORIAL COMMENT : Peaceful elections will secure Zim’s future

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ZIMBABWE is in an election mode, but it must be made clear that election to public office is neither a do or die affair, nor winning power at any cost. It should not be a desperate task to win power by any means necessary.

It must be done in a free, fair and peaceful manner. No politician is worth killing or dying for. Nobody knows the future of Zimbabwe for it does not lie in the hands of man, but of God. Politicians and their supporters should master this cardinal spiritual principle and avoid extremism. Only God’s will, will prevail on July 30.

We need to remind each other that peaceful elections are not hinged on just one group, but multiplicity of bodies, structures and individuals working diligently to ensure a peaceful process before, during and after the elections. It takes action or inaction of just one body, group or individual to disrupt the process.

Previous elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by political violence. But President Emmerson Mnangagwa has called for free, fair peaceful and credible elections. He has also implored police to play a pivotal role in ensuring that the elections are held in a peaceful environment and so far the pre-election phase has been commendably peaceful.

Prevention is better than cure, they say, and in the spirit of ensuring a peaceful electoral process, police in Manicaland have banned possession of weapons like catapults, knives, machetes, axes, knobkerries, swords or daggers and spears among others deemed to occasion public disorder in public places.

Everyone  should heed this wise call for peace as it was made under Section 14 (1) and 14 (2) of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) Chapter 11.17. The ban takes effect from July 15 to August 30, 2018 to allow the ongoing electoral process to proceed and end without violence.

We also hail the setting up of special courts and designation of 57 magistrates to expeditiously handle cases of politically-motivated violence and intimidation. The courts should severely punish perpetrators of political violence and intimidation to ensure fair, peaceful and credible elections.

The police should be firm and fair. They should not be seen to be siding with any party. It is a recipe for chaos. They should display professional conduct and mediate fairly without being attached to the apron strings of any party or politician. Effective policing presents an important domestic guarantee for election security.  Whether the threats originate from violent riots, insurgent attacks, or targeted assassinations, police are responsible for the protection of election materials and stakeholders, including candidates, voters, or poll workers.

Violence exacerbate tensions, trigger widespread fear, trauma, withdrawal and collective depression. It creates resentment, frustration and thirst for retribution and unless there is justice for the perpetrators, anger and a desire for revenge could create the conditions for future explosion.

Elections should not be about character assassination, inciting one group against another, hate speech or indecent language. It should be a battle of ideas; to win hearts and minds of the electorate; selling genuine vision, programmes and policies that better the lives of citizens.  Zimbabwe has suffered years of isolation due to disputed electoral outcome. We yearn for a credible outcome with losers congratulating winners. A credible election will guarantee a democracy dividend. Indeed, peaceful elections are rewarded by the international community and private sector investments.

In ensuring peaceful elections, the conduct of politicians and party supporters is crucial. The role and responsibility of the political elite in inciting and organising election violence cannot be underestimated, since violence commonly results from an incumbent’s fear of losing power in the face of an uncertain election outcome.

The church should also play a key role to preach peace through various techniques aimed at citizens like peace messaging, voter education, and voter consultations to influence a positive shift in the attitude and behaviour of the general electorate. The church should encourage ordinary citizens to speak out against violence and alert them on the human, financial and development cost of violence.

Those seeking political mandate and power should know that elections are not a must win affair. The nation needs to stay intact even after the election process. The environment will be competitive and hot but must remain peaceful, calm and safe.

Opposing groups who lose must accept the results for the sake of the nation while winning candidates and their supporters must not over celebrate and tease the losing side, as this sometimes degenerates into open confrontation and the end result is always unwelcome. Therefore, everything should be done in moderation and the required peace will be attained. This is where true leadership, maturity and respect for the rule of law comes in.