Leonard Ncube, Senior Reporter
JULY 30 is fast approaching and the country is readying itself for the harmonised election.
President Mnangagwa has been consistent in his call for peace and calm prior, during and after elections all for a free and fair poll.
Peace and tranquility has prevailed for the first time in the history of the country in the build-up to any election.
Even the incident at White City Stadium where an attempt to assassinate the President was made has been widely condemned locally and internationally as a primitive and satanic terrorist act which, however, will not stop the election.
All the 23 presidential aspirants last week signed a peace pledge committing themselves and their political parties to a peaceful campaign ahead of the polls.
This is a first in Zimbabwe and was organised by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
This comes after realisation that an election comes and goes but a society remains.
Since political parties have committed themselves to peace, it is important for the general public to know that there won’t be any political party to bail anyone out after a violent act disturbing the election.
That is the message of peace, no hate speech, slogans during campaigns with electoral courts, responsible judges and magistrates having been put in place countrywide for quick trials of malcontents.
While government has commended political parties for peaceful conduct after putting in place necessary measures to ensure that the plebiscite is democratic, peaceful, transparent, free, fair and credible, concern has been raised about the need to monitor use of social media especially on Election Day.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has warned that social media has the potential to create disharmony in the country during the election period if not handled properly.
Zec has said some members of the public have a propensity to announce election results before they are verified by the electoral commission.
The amended Electoral Act (EA), which was gazetted on May 28, mandates Zec as the only legal entity charged with announcing election results.
While results will be posted at every polling station for the electorate to see, Zec has warned that publicising such is a chargeable offence as it violates the EA.
Zec chief elections officer Mr Otoile Silaigwana said election officers at ward, constituency, provincial and national level are mandated to announce results and no one else.
“Results will be posted at the polling station and then the presiding officer will carry them in the company of observers and agents to a ward command centre where local authority results will be announced.
“House of Assembly results will be taken from ward centres by ward election officers to constituency centres where they will be announced. The constituency officer will send results to provincial centres and the process will continue up to the national command centres where the presidential results will be announced,” said Mr Silaigwana.
He appealed to members of the public to desist from publicising the results before they are verified by the electoral commission.
“We are strongly appealing to those who are friends with social media not to assume the role of publicising results because it’s not theirs. Social media users have no mandate and no-one should announce results until Zec, which is an authentic body charged with the mandate of elections, does so.
“Anyone who publicises results before Zec violates the Electoral Act. It’s a chargeable offence for anyone to publish results of an election before they’re announced by Zec,” said Mr Silaigwana.
He urged citizens to trust and rely on Zec for results instead of social media which can actually damage society.
While the MDC Alliance threatened to block the election if its demands on electoral reforms are not met and demanded that Zec make public the printing of the ballot papers, the electoral body has handled the issue by inviting political parties and observers to the printing process.
Names of successful aspirants have been compiled and advertised, ballot designed and printing is being done.
There will be no voting in some of the constituencies which were not contested.
Training of election officers, who in terms of Section 10 of the EA were recruited from the public service, has started.
Zec has also invited election agents from different parties to train together with election officers so they understand the process.
Zec commissioner responsible for Matabeleland North province Commissioner Sibusiso Ndlovu concurred, adding that the commission has started an educational campaign before the election.
“Now that we’re in full campaign mode, the biggest thing is to be peaceful. Behaviour like pulling down other people’s posters causes violence. Let people be free to attend rallies of their choice.
“This is not a Zec area but we look forward to a free and peaceful campaign period. We are educating the electorate about what happened in primary elections and nomination court. There are some constituencies that were not contested and this has to be explained to people that there won’t be an election in those areas. This is a very critical process we should undertake because it has never happened before that a constituency is not contested,” she said.
The campaign period will end a day before the election while on the day of the polls, no-one will be allowed to wear party regalia when going to a polling station, chant slogans or hold meetings to coerce anyone to vote for them.
People will not be allowed to carry out any political activity within 100 metres of the polling station, Commissioner Ndlovu said.
She said unlike in the past when those who could not write were assisted to vote by presiding officers, the EA amendment states that such people should bring their own people.
There have been concerns that some might end up being influenced into voting for candidates they don’t like.
Commissioner Ndlovu said Zec cannot do anything about the issue because such a process happens outside its territory.
Speaking at a recent elections reporting media training workshop organised by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in Bulawayo, Zec deputy director for elections Mrs Rejoice Mtombeni said every electoral stakeholder has a critical role to play in an election.
“Elections are a legal activity hence we have to make sure we do them according to the law. All electoral stakeholders including security agents, media, government, political parties, judiciary, civil society, churches and individual citizens have a role to play.
“They should understand the electoral cycle comprising pre-election, election and post- election period. While there is a single set of agreed standards of election, there is consensus that such standards include principles of free and fair elections that guarantee participation by citizens and freedom of association,” she said.
Speaking at the same occasion, another Zec Commissioner Daniel Chigaru said voter education is continuous, adding that stakeholders have a role to partner Zec in educating the electorate.
He said the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system, which was used for registration of voters, will not be used during polls as people will use the old normal voting system.
As we are in the election period, parties and the electorate are reminded that in terms of the code of conduct, there should be promotion of conditions that are conducive for free and fair elections and a climate of tolerance in which electioneering activity may take place without fear or coercion, intimidation and reprisals.
While politicians have matured enough and abided by the code of conduct, concern still remains that the public may still lack divergence of opinion and tolerance.
President Mnangagwa has also reiterated that the harmonised elections are a call to safeguard the country’s freedom, integrity, respect and dignity and for people to vote wisely and safeguard the country’s liberation history.