Amid rising tensions, ZEC takes its time

ZEC chairperson Priscilla Chigumba

AS anti-riot police fought back a tide of angry opposition supporters at the gates of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s temporary base, a relaxed ZEC chairperson Chigumba was fielding questions from journalists, seemingly impervious to the storm of discontentment over the ‘delayed’ presidential election results.

The situation turned deadly with the killing of three people as the army moved in to quell a violent protest by opposition supporters frustrated by delays in announcing election results.

Across the conference centre of the hotel housing ZEC’s results centre, the European Union observer mission chief Elmar Brok was voicing impatience with the painstaking results announcements.

“The longer it takes for presidential results to be released, the more there would be questions about credibility,” Brok said as he released the preliminary EU observer team’s report.

After the Monday vote, ZEC began announcing parliamentary election results late on Tuesday afternoon and had, by Wednesday afternoon, completed all but three of the 210 constituencies. ZANU-PF’s two-thirds parliamentary majority did not dampen the anticipation for the results of the presidential contest, in which the opposition is claiming victory.

In her briefing after she invited questions from journalists in a rare gesture, Chigumba did not seem moved by the growing impatience around her.

Having initially indicated that the eagerly awaited results of the presidential poll would be announced today, the ZEC chief said this could now happen on Thursday. Or not.

“Remember, we have until Saturday,” Chigumba said after taking time to elaborate the process of counting, transmitting and collating votes.

By Wednesday afternoon ZEC had most of the returns for the presidential election, she said, but the process was now being held up by the polling agents of the record 23 candidates, who have to verify the results first.

“It (results announcement) depends  on the success that the agents have and on how fast they can wade through all that paperwork,” Chigumba said, in the manner of a judge delivering a detailed judgement.

“So we will say, for today, we don’t believe that they can go through all the v11s (results forms) because, already, we’re hearing all the allegations about disputed v11 forms.”

Opposition supporters burn tyres in post-election protests which rocked Harare on August 1, 2018. Photo credit: AP

As she has consistently done since her appointment in February, Chigumba cited the law, which gives ZEC five days to announce the presidential results.

As judges are wont to do, Chigumba is averse to letting the public mood or opinion sway her.

However, her current role, playing referee in a highly charged electoral process, requires more than just sticking to the letter of the law.

True, the law gives ZEC up to Saturday to announce the presidential results. But today’s false start, considering the controversy and mounting tensions around that particular contest, comes across as dangerously tone-deaf.

While there are mitigating factors, such as the high voter turnout, reported to be around 75%, as well as record numbers of candidates, it cannot be lost on ZEC that any perceived delay in announcing results breeds dangerous suspicions and puts the nation on edge.

In 2008, ZEC, then led by George Chiweshe, took a month to release presidential election results which showed former President Robert Mugabe had suffered a first round loss to Morgan Tsvangirai, although the latter had not mustered enough votes to avoid a run-off.

Memories of this episode are still fresh in the minds of many, especially opposition voters who believe the delay in announcing the results was meant to facilitate rigging.