ZIMBABWE: Recession slows election results

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The painful slowness of announcing the results of Zimbabwe's 29 March poll is being condemned internationally as "suspicious", but the accusations do not take account of the debilitating affects of the country's eight-year long recession and its impact on the electoral process.

In past elections, results were announced almost immediately by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). But this time, the battered economy and the world's highest inflation rate in excess of 100,000 percent, could mean that final results may only be finalised on 11 April, election officials and candidates told IRIN.

"We could have expected more in terms of preparations for such major elections, but the current economic problems naturally constrained the voting process,"
David Chimhini, candidate for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the rural province of Manicaland, told IRIN.

Chimhini, who is also the director of Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET), said: "Worse still, the ruling party hurried the elections in spite of protestations from the opposition that the polls should be postponed to June, all because they thought they wanted to retain power before our crisis got out of hand."
"There were hardly enough vehicles to ensure smooth voting in the province," said Chimhini, who won his seat. "The transportation of ballot boxes after voting on Saturday was a real headache. Officials ended up resorting to unreliable transport such as private lorries and tractors that broke down.

"To make matters worse, there was little fuel and in one case in my constituency, the lorry that was used because there was no official vehicle ran out of fuel on its way to [ZEC's] command centre, and that meant a big delay in relaying the results," Chimini said.

Shortages of fuel, food and energy have become commonplace, but the election placed extra demands on an economy which has become shadow of its former self.

In the run-up to the polls, fuel shortages became even more acute as supplies were procured by the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM), a state parastatal, for election purposes.

Ballot shortages

Ballot paper ran short and hasty arrangements had to be made to get more; and even though polling stations were equipped with generators for lighting, there was no fuel to power them. "While candles might have been made available, how far do you go with candles in the windy darkness?," noted Chimini.

Samson Phiri, a school teacher, was deployed as a polling officer to a constituency in the Mhondoro district of Mashonaland West province, about 60km southwest of the capital, Harare. He said they were not provided with sufficient candles to provide light at night.

"We ended up using our own money to buy candles from the nearby shopping centre, but there was a further problem in that the only shop that had them was overwhelmed by demand from other polling stations, and the result was that we carried out our duties under extremely difficult conditions," Phiri told IRIN.

Innocent Makwiramiti, a Harare-based economist, commented: "It is possible that even up to now, some remote areas have not sent in their results. I have heard of ox-drawn carts being used to transport ballot boxes, and one wonders how long it would take to get them to their intended destinations for purposes of verification.

"The fact is that the economic crisis that we are experiencing now, that has made so many people fervently wish for leadership change, has managed to throw its own spanners into the very process that would bring about the much desired change in our fortunes."

He said more problems would be experienced if there was a second round run-off in the presidential poll, required if no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, as the "government is too broke to sustain another round of elections".