By Wongai Zhangazha and Emelia Sithole-Matarise
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Justice Rita Makarau has signalled her intention to resign as head of the electoral body, a few months before crucial general elections whose credibility will determine whether the country ends 20 years of international isolation.
According to sources at Zec, Makarau, who was appointed by former president Robert Mugabe last year, has written to other commissioners notifying them of her intention to resign. Sources also said she also notified President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Sources said although Makarau’s official reasons for resigning were unclear, her exit is linked to Mugabe’s ouster and the defeat of Zanu PF’s G40 faction. Zimbabwe is due to hold elections before August next year.
Makarau’s deputy, Emmanuel Magade, will be the acting chair before a substantive chairperson is appointed, sources said.
Her resignation comes at a time she was spearheading the biometric voter registration exercise as part of moves to prepare a new voters’ roll. This followed concerns by political players that the previous register was in a shambolic state and prone to manipulation.
Efforts to get a comment from Makarau were fruitless as she was unreachable on mobile phone. She also did not respond to text messages sent to her number.
Makarau, who is also Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretary, was very close to Mugabe.
During the race to succeed the late retired chief justice Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, Makarau was the preferred candidate of Zanu PF’s G40 faction which had coalesced around former first lady Grace Mugabe while the faction led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa preferred Judge President George Chiweshe.
President Mnangagwa, who was sworn in two weeks ago in the wake of the de facto military coup that ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule, pledged to hold elections as scheduled next year.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa mentioned the credibility of the elections at least five times in a budget speech on Thursday, a sign of the vote’s importance in shoring up Harare’s democratic legitimacy.
Opposition parties have demanded reforms to an electoral system they say is skewed in the ruling ZANU-PF party’s favour.
Makarau, who has been accused of being partisan, was overseeing an overhaul of the voters’ roll, which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has described as “shambolic”.