Dispelling the voodoo myths of rigging

Dr Samuel Chindaro
Just as the rains signify the beginning of the farming season, the outcry on “rigging” means elections are around the corner.

The political commentators are emerging from their holes, and “political scientists” are claiming that they are exposing pre-election rigging plans.

It is Alice in Wonderland time.

These claims, which signify the anxiety and fears that exist in some participants about losing an election, may also signify the lack of knowledge about the electoral system and the safeguards that exist at each stage. The fact that some losing participants always cry foul and refuse to accept results is as natural as breathing.

In previous elections in Zimbabwe, the losers have even invented fancy terms such as “building a war chest” (raising campaign funds), “Nikuving” (hiring a company for registration and preparing a voters’ roll) and “militarisation of elections” (whatever that means) to try and convince the world that the polls were not fair.

They even came up with an imaginary and ridiculous story of mutating ballots and “clever pens”.

Even a senior member of the opposition, Morgan Komichi, was caught red-handed and convicted of interfering with election material to support the allegations. It was, however, refreshing that some leaders in the opposition, led by the then MDC-T secretary-General Tendai Biti, started revealing the truth after the 2013 electoral loss, dispelling the voodoo theories that were being peddled soon after the loss.

It is important to examine these claims to ensure that the election process is not prejudiced. Indeed, some of the grumblings are unhelpful for the participants themselves, as they may discourage their own supporters from participating, thinking that the results have been pre-determined.

It is therefore important to instil confidence and trust in the electorate and to enable them to participate fully in elections. The issue of the printing and acquisition of ballot papers and ballot boxes has grabbed the headlines in past few weeks, and there have been calls for the process to be done through an open tender process rather than direct acquisition.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has opted for direct procurement as provided for in Section 33(2)(b) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act (Chapter 22:23).

That an open tender process would satisfy the stakeholders is questionable given the perceived controversy that surrounded the BVR tender process.

This precedent points to a situation whereby even if this process was done via open tender, some participants would still complain that the bid was won by the “wrong company”.

What if that tender was won fairly by Jongwe Printers? Would that be satisfactory to the opposition?

Section 52A of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13) compels ZEC to provide political parties, candidates and observers information regarding where and by whom ballot papers are being printed or have been printed, the total number of ballot papers printed, and the number of ballot papers distributed to each polling station.

ZEC has promised to publish this alongside the identity of companies that supply any election-related materials and equipment.

It is constitutionally questionable to allow political parties (all 124 of them) to be part of the process of printing and acquiring ballot papers and boxes.

In this regard, ZEC has even gone further than required by law by considering allowing political parties to observe the printing of voting materials.

Instead of concentrating on the who’s and why’s of the printing and acquisition of the ballot papers, stakeholders should be concentrating on the quality and security of the products.

It is important for ZEC to ensure that the ballot papers are printed to the highest levels of quality and security, with features that include security background, bar codes, specialised numbering and candidates’ images.

Intensive quality control measures by both ZEC and the print contractor should be in place to ensure that ballot papers are correctly printed.

The ballot paper form and content need to be easily understandable. Simplicity aids speed of voter flow and assists all voters to vote with confidence.

On ballot boxes, it is important that these are tamper-proof to guarantee voting integrity.

The election process itself includes safeguards at various stages, which can allay any fears of ballot papers tempering or manipulation.

One of the biggest improvements made by ZEC is introducing polling station-specific voter registers and voting. This is a system which is used in the United Kingdom elections, for example.

This makes it easy for the ZEC administratively to do its work, which include monitoring ballot boxes and ballot papers.

Polling agents, observers and other stakeholders will be able to monitor the process easily, allaying fears of ballot box stuffing, including the ridiculous claims by one “political scientist” that “elections are held in winter to enable people to stuff ballots in jackets!”

Counting and tallying of votes will be much easier in small numbers as it enables reconciliation of the number of ballots used and the number of voters.

It is therefore vital that stakeholders engage in this process, instead of making imaginary and unfounded claims.

There have been demands by opposition political parties and civil society groups that ZEC hires external auditors to audit the voters’ roll.

Even though auditing of a voters’ roll can be done in the electoral process, this auditing takes various forms at various stages, depending on circumstances.

The fact that one country used external auditors with an accounting background does not necessarily mean the same process is applicable in Zimbabwe under the existing circumstances.

One of the reasons cited by those calling for auditing of the voters’ roll was to eliminate ghost voters or multiple registrants.

But hang on, the major reason why the BVR system was introduced in the first place was to enable an automated process to do exactly the same.

All the clamour by the various stakeholders for the introduction of biometrics in the process was because it allows a creation of a clean voters roll in which every individual can be uniquely identified.

An automated process, which identifies and eliminates multiple registrants, is a major component of the system.

Ghost voters cannot exist in such a system as every individual will have to present themselves physically to surrender their biometrics and register.

It is, therefore, unclear how “chartered accountants” would assist in this process.

The other aspects regarding inaccuracies or erroneous entries are dealt with by the electoral process itself.

This makes the voters roll public, with anyone having a chance to inspect it (a process which is currently underway) and raise any concerns with ZEC.

ZEC has said, “After we produce the provisional voters’ roll, it will then lie open for inspection, it is at that time that people are allowed to look at it, inspect it and those who want to audit our work will have the opportunity to do that at that stage, after which we will then come up with the final voters’ roll.”

This is the auditing process that is provided for by law.

In any case, once the roll is published, any participant can obtain it and audit it using any method they choose – including hiring chartered accountants from Mars!

It is rather more important for stakeholders to engage in the process and participate fully at each stage to ensure that the defined process is carried out accurately and efficiently than to make unreasonable and baseless demands and claims.

Other claims being raised cast aspersions on the integrity of ZEC itself, which is an unfortunate development.

These include the perceived impartiality and accusations that ZEC might be involved in unethical activities that would undermine the process or compromise other candidates.

It is important to clarify the circumstance surrounding the establishment of ZEC and its composition.

The current ZEC was constituted in terms of Constitutional Amendment 19 (Act 1 of 2009), which was a result of the Global Political Agreement.

The eight members of the commission were appointed from a list of nominees submitted by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

The Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders first invited applications for these posts. The shortlisted applicants were subjected to a public interview process by a panel of parliamentarians.

All political parties represented in Parliament were part of this process.

The most notable appointment in that group is former director of policy in the Professor Welshman Ncube-led MDC (which is now part of the Alliance), Dr Qhubani Moyo.

Therefore, the apolitical nature and the integrity of these commissioners have gone through public scrutiny in accordance with the country’s law.

It is therefore important for all stakeholders to respect the institutions they have created and allow them to do their job. The other claim, which some stakeholders have made, is the perceived “militarisation” of ZEC.

The claim is based on the fact that a significant number of ZEC employees are ex-military workers. It is unfortunate that instead of celebrating the re-integration of ex-service men into civilian society, they are being discriminated against and used as weapons to support pre-election rigging claims and to attack the integrity of ZEC.

This is in stark contrast to other countries and societies were companies are encouraged and given incentives to re-deploy the skills of ex-service men.

Additionally, no one should be denied employment based on their previous job.

There is no doubt that there is an inevitable conflict between the search for electoral perfection and the interests of participants in elections.

In any electoral system, there is bound to be errors in electoral registers and some irregularities in the process. It is, however, unethical, hypocritical and mischievous for participants to undermine the electoral process by making unreasonable, ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims. It is also self-defeating to cast aspersions and undermine institutions that we have constitutionally and lawfully established ourselves.

Electoral perfection cannot be used as a standard for democratic legitimacy, or credibility of an election, because even the best designed and best operated processes can result in errors; this has occurred around the world, even in some of the so-called advanced democracies.

 

Dr Samuel Chindaro holds a PhD in Electronics (University of Kent), MSc in Electronics and IT (University of Birmingham) and a B.Eng. (Hons) in Electronic Engineering (NUST). He is a Chartered Engineer (Institution of Engineering and Technology). Feedback: [email protected]

 

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