Fear of elections grips residents

Chitungwiza – Working quietly at his informal stand at a street corner at Makoni shopping centre in Chitungwiza, Stephen Chari, 32, a shoe maker, is gripped by fear of the prospects of Zimbabwe going for elections next year.\r\n

As the talk of Zimbabwe holding an election next year gathers momentum Chari fears for the safety of his wife and two children. For Chari having an election is like a declaration of the beginning of violence.

Chari, vividly remembers the political violence that left hundreds of opposition supporters dead and the beatings that people went through as the presidential run-off neared in June 2008.

To Chari, any election next year or in the near future that does not guarantee peace and free movement of people will not change anything as a repeat of the deadly violence of 2008 will be witnessed again.

“Any election next year will mean the return of violence,” Chari said. “We know what it means when politicians call for an election. It simply means people will be beaten and there will be curfews all over the country.”

Chari recalls the endless meetings and night vigils he was forced to attend by Zanu (PF) supporters towards the June 27 presidential election run-off.

“We were attending endless meetings and we would sleep at the Zanu (PF) bases, singing party slogans,” Chari said.

“One had to either attend the meetings because that is where daily slogans were coined so that it will be easier to weed out MDC supporters or people who do not attend the rallies. Failure to attend risked one’s life and that of his family.”

Although life was beginning to change for the better for Chari who survives by repairing shoes and washing cars for revellers at a nearby Sports bar, the talk of having elections is likely to disrupt his survival means.

Despite being self employed, Chari can take US30 dollars a day which is enough to pull his family through the month.

"Towards or during election time, people normally don’t come often to the shops. They stay at home scared because political parties’ youths will be harassing people and things will be at a standstill," said Chari.

"Even out-going people who come here to braai and drink beer mostly on weekends, they will not come. We saw it before. This will mean no money for some of us."

President Robert Mugabe said at the just ended Zanu (PF) conference that he wanted elections as early as June 2011 because the unity government had outlived its purpose. Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was recently quoted saying he only wanted a Presidential election in 2012 when a new constitution is in place to allow for a free and fair election while the parliamentary elections will be held in 2013.

The unity government has been marred by tensions and failed to implement reforms as agreed in the Global Political Agreement (GPA). The parties disagreed in implementing democratic reforms and senior government appointments.

Political analyst, Takura Zhangazha said Zimbabwe was not ready to go for any election as the country was yet to implement reforms to prevent a repeat of what happened in the post March presidential run-off.

“The country is not ready to hold elections. No reforms have been implemented to stop the violent political culture in the country towards elections,” Zhangazha said.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), which has been monitoring Zimbabwe election since the year 2000 says any election in future must guarantee freedom of assembly and peaceful campaigns by political parties among other things.

“There must be freedom of assembly and association. Political parties contesting an election must be able to campaign freely. They should be able to hold political meetings and rallies and those wishing to attend these must be free to do so,” Zesn said.

“Voters must be permitted to make free political choices and must not be forced to vote for a particular political party.”

Zesn said a new voters’ roll must be prepared and regional and international observers must be allowed in the country months before any election takes place.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC) is concerned by reports that the State Intelligence agents are part of ZEC secretariat and are currently receiving training on how to manipulate the pending elections.”

This year, ZEC head, Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe said lack of funds is hampering his organisations activities which include voter education and to pay remuneration to his secretariat.

Mutambanengwe also said current legislation does not guarantee independence of ZEC as there was no provision to that effect in the current electoral law.

"Regrettably a provision that used to be in the Constitution relating to non interference by any outside person or agency in the work of the Commission (ZEC) does not appear in the current Constitution," Mutambanengwe said.

Tsvangirai said political leaders in the country must come up with an agreed road-map to fresh elections to prevent the troubles the country went through in the last election.

A constitutional making process, which has completed gathering views of people, has been marred by intimidation, violence and lack of funds.

According to the GPA, fresh elections must be held after a new constitution has been passed. However, Mugabe has already hinted elections can be held anytime even before the referendum.

As the year 2010 closes to an end, ordinary Zimbabweans like Chari wait anxiously for what will happen next year if the country decides to go ahead and have elections.