There is a very interesting process which I have been so privileged to observe from a front row seat. As I write, election results are being announced from difference races across the country, they are appearing slowly, but surely. I think it is important to give a context to how this election has been set up:
There are 4 different elections happening simultaneously: local council elections, lower house parliamentary seats [House of Assembly], the Upper House of parliament [The Senate] and the Presidency. There are 1 958 local council seats up for election in 1 958 wards around the country, there are 210 House of Assembly seats up for grabs, there are sixty senate seats and one presidential seat. Now each one of these positions has at least two candidates contesting, with some having as many as seven candidates (and in other cases more). So there are a lot of people involved in contesting for all the elected offices in zimbabwe.
The post-voting electoral process
The process itself, that has come about out of a series of negotiations between the government and the opposition over the course of the past 12 months has meant that significant changes have been made to the electoral law in the country. New law requires that every polling station counts their ballots AT the station – this is in order to avoid rigging or tampering with ballot boxes in transit to any other location. This has been done in accordance with the law in every case. In a ward, you can get up to 3 or 4 polling stations depending on population data. In a constituency, you can get as many as 15 wards. This means that per constituency you get about 60 polling stations.
When the voting is done in that polling station, counting for all four seats begins – the local council, the lower house, the upper house and the presidency. For each candidate, there is a polling agent present to preside over the counting and to contest what they may deem to be deviations from due process or law. A result is only official when all the polling agents agree to it; hence in the case where there are disputes, this can take a while. Now remember, that this is happening for every single ballot, and every candidate's representatives can argue their cause. When a final result is reached and agreed upon by all parties and everyone signs to confirm such, the result for that polling station
is posted on the entry way to that station. The official result is then sent to the 'Command Center' of that constituency. So in each constituency, they would have to wait for all sixty or so polling stations to reach that agreement, and then send the results to a central place where they are collated, and again agreed upon by all the Chief Election Agents of the candidates [if they chose to have agents represent them] and then a final result is reached. So in these cases, you can imagine how long this process may take given that (i) this is the first time that this was done in Zimbabwe; (ii) as in a big sporting game, the world cup final or something, every possession is contested – the same with these elections.; (iii) in some of the rural constituencies [actually, in most of them] the roads are horrendous. In some cases, non-existent. So moving a distance of 30 kilometres can actually take as long as an hour and a half to two hours. So movement is slow and complicated. And there are no telephones or electronic communications.
So the process is a slow one, and I think most people are doing the best to get these results out as fast as possible.
I observed the process in three electoral constituencies in rural Matabeleland. In VERY rural places so I am writing about all of this from first hand experience. The polls closed Saturday at 7pm. In the one constituency we only got a final result (after the process above was complete and all agreed upon) on Monday morning. Another one only by Monday afternoon. Others are not yet complete.
The mistake most people are making is that they see the result outside one polling station, take that as the overall result and then cry "that results are out. Why are they not being announced" and are completely ignorant of the process that must be taken to ensure that all parties involved at that local level are satisfied.
Allegations of Rigging etc
The international news media is buzzing with stories about how these delays are being caused by the government trying to buy time and rig the election. I think that is all the elections I have participated in and observed in Zimbabwe, this has been the most free, fair and competitive election. There was almost no violence leading up to the election. For the first time, you actually had a lot of oppositions parties using main stream including government controlled media to campaign and having access to the electorate almost on par with the government [I saw almost, because the government always has the advantage of incumbency. If a government minister is commissioning a new project for example, that is a 'national duty' and not a political meeting so the electoral rules don't necessarily apply, but any smart operator would use that platform to plug for their cause]. This doesn't mean that everything about the period leading up to the election was fair, but I think the environment really has allowed for people to express their will.
Even the post-election process I feel has provided for much more fairness than before. What is really surprising to me is the extent to which immediately after the election was done, the main opposition (the MDC party led by Morgan Tsvangirai) went on a global media blitz claiming the election is being rigged and already setting up an environment for those who are either not really aware of the details of the process, or who are far removed from it to prejudge all that is happening. I was really surprised by this and think it to be a really sleazy tactic.
Rigging, if it is taking place, is not happening with people stuffing boxes full of paper etc. It is happening on very technical grounds where those who are least informed on electoral law and procedure don't know how to play the game fully.
Most people reading this will be surprised by what I am about to say, but in my observations, I saw the greatest cases of foul play [call it rigging if you will] coming from the opposition. And their methodology for this is very sophisticated. Let me try and explain…
When we were children, there was a tactic where if there was a dispute between us as kids playing together, lets say, one kid hits another, the initiator of the transgression would run to an adult and cry the loudest and claim they were hit. The adult would run out in response and to the surprise of everyone watching would lash out at the person who actually was smacked in the first place, but it was too late, the initiative had been lost by the 'victim'. It was a smart tactic which worked most of the time, but it left the person who was really hit feeling very, very unjustly treated.
A similar thing has happened in this election from what I have seen. The MDC has run out screaming that we've been cheated, there is rigging etc. they've smartly managed tog et everyone watching the wrong place while they smugly cook the books where they can. It's a very close election in most cases so every point counts. Let me give you examples of what I mean, without mentioning specific locations and situations as this could have legal implications.
The widespread belief is that the government will rig the election because it is so popular that it cannot win the election fairly. They say it will rig it because it has deployed civil servants to oversee the election. In reality, the people who have the greatest animosity towards the government are civil servants. Teachers, Nurses, Police etc. they are the lowest paid people in the country and yet have the most expected from them. So we found in 3 places, and I think this is a sample behavior of what you would find nation wide, whereby you had electoral officials, employed by the government trying to work things in favor of the opposition.
In one polling station, where a government candidate had won and the papers confirming this were signed at that station, the delivery note meant to go to the Command Centre with the result 'disappeared.' There was a recount and a revisiting of the whole process I've described, the result again came out in favor of the government. Again, the delivery note disappeared. Eventually, the culprit was identified and arrested and the processes repeated once again and the result eventually went through. In that constituency, the government representative for that seat won, and there were incredible delays in releasing that data over endless, undescribed technicalities. Eventually, representatives from the electoral commission from the region's capital had to be called in to settle it.
Another incident, there was a case whereby a person standing for office of the government had a comfortable lead in their constituency with a margin of over 1000 votes. Two wards were still outstanding [about 6 polling stations]. When results came in, the ZANU PF [the governing party] representative won one constituency, and lost the other. The margin of the loss was significantly smaller than one thousand. The candidate's polling agent left the scene assuming victory. This was on Monday morning. Monday afternoon, we heard the results announced that the ZANU PF candidate has lost by over 2000 votes. Mathematically, this is not possible. There was most certainly an 'accounting error' in that case and the result will most probably be legally challenged.
The opposition has set up all of these 'parallel' structures to feed the word election results as 'they' see them. Some of them are so grossly wrong its disturbing. Yesterday they projected that out of 210 Lower House seats, the government has won only 50, the opposition 117 and the balance going to independents – which would of course mean a land slide for the opposition. As I type, about 90 results for the House of Assembly have been announced with 43 going to ZANU PF, 41 going to one faction of the MDC (Tsvangirai's faction) and the balance to independents and the smaller MDC Faction.
One thing that is being done which could be seen as controversial is that the results in the early stages are being announced almost in a balanced manner – i.e., you announce one victory for the opposition, one for the government etc. one reason for doing this may be so that you don't raise expectations of one side and then have a Kenya-type dispute when the final results swings in contradiction to early results. I think this makes sense because you do want to maintain calm in such a tense situation. Those advocating for this to be done "as results appear" seem to not have learned from what happened just north of Zimbabwe a few months ago.
I am sure there are cases of government (ZANU PF) rigging happening too, but I think ZANU's mischief would more have been done before the election, in the process leading up to it rather than during or post the election. But I am sure others elsewhere have their own reports and perspectives to share on this, especially those participating or observing the election for places that overwhelmingly support ZANU PF, of which Matabeleland isn't traditionally one of them.
Contrary to 'popular' expectations
Most commentators outside the country expect the ruling party and president to lose the election. The economic situation and an environment that actually allows more of a freer expression of people's will are cited as some of the influencing factors in those calculations. This is plausible thinking to some degree. I did not expect the president to have any
support in Matabeleland at all. Given the history of this region, given the economic situation and the strong support the opposition has always had here, I was surprised to see the results in some places.
You would see results in a polling station where the president won by a significant margin over his opponents. You would get some where he lost by a very wide margin, and others that were close. I certainly expected him to lose everywhere in this part of the country. It's not turning out that way. In most areas here where I observed things up close, except for Bulawayo and urban centers, the presidential contest seems to have been between Robert Mugabe and Simba Makoni. Surprisingly, there is not much traction for Morgan Tsvangirai (which may be different in the northern and eastern regions of the country). In one entire constituency, Robert Mugabe beat Simba Makoni in the final tally of about 55 polling stations! It was a small margin but extremely surprising. In general, I think he will lose Matabeleland, but not by the wide margins people predict.
Where there is the greatest volatility in the election has been the local councils. That's where you get the most surprising results with many, many incumbents being thrown out. In retrospect, it makes sense because those are the candidates they know the best, that have the most direct contact and influence and that people have some form of control over. Again, that surprised me, given that the elections have always been billed as a presidential contest primarily.
The funny thing is that, you have external commentators surprised by the victories that the government achieves despite the situation economically. I feel that most people who vote for the president or governing party candidates have really done so out of their will. Many have chosen not to vote [hence the low voter turn out] for whatever reasons. When you have a 'democratic' election, and the candidate that outsiders don't prefer wins, there is always a problem. Ironically, those are the people who become hypocritical and do not accept the results. When Hamas won the elections in Palestine we saw the same thing happen. It's really funny watching the perspective of the 'western media' on Zimbabwe. BBC, CNN et al have been giving some pretty hilarious (and infuriating reporting). Partly because of their obvious biases, but also because of their location – they are not on the ground in Zimbabwe (for various, debatable reasons).
There are all sorts of notorious reports out there:
The president has left the country – Not True
The Military has been ordered to announce the president the winner – again, I don't think this is true. (http://www.swradioafrica.com/news300308/military300308.htm
And so on … Most of these are not really true from what we can acertain, although confirming anything like that isn't really easy to do.
There are reports of civil unrest, and the military and police on the street. That is CERTAINLY not the case. Definitely not the case in Bulawayo and from what friends are telling me, it's not the case in Harare. It's one thing to look for an interesting story. It's mischief to say things that could lead to a tense (but calm) situation becoming tense and volatile.
I think if I called the BBC and claimed that I was being attacked by a Sabre Tooth Tiger sent by the government, I'd be on the front page of their website and on satellite TV within the hour!
It's a pretty close election – I think it could go either way. You'll probably get nothing more dramatic than a 55% -- 45% margin in the final result as far as parliament is concerned. The same may hold for the presidency.
I don't think Robert Mugabe is going to lose. If he does, I think he will probably accept the result, but expect some trading to take place about a way forward depending on his margin of defeat. But I don't think he will lose.
Well, my 'few thoughts' did become rather long and protracted – but other than that, we are all fine and awaiting the completion of the process with as much anxiety as everyone else.
Actually, the REAL result we are awaiting has NOTHING to do with the election. At around 3am this morning my sister, Mvuse, went into labor with her first pregnancy! So we are all on edge because that will be my parent's first biological grand child!!! It's a girl, that we know – but we're super excited to have her finally arrival. And what perfect timing, in time for the election results and on April Fool's Day no less!