By Advocate Nelson Chamisa
Fellow Zimbabweans, I come before you to express my gratitude for the tremendous support, solidarity and kindness that you have shown to the cause, to us, particularly myself and my esteemed colleagues in the MDC Alliance.
I cannot thank you enough for the inspiring courage, bravery and commitment that you have demonstrated in the last few months, as we prepare for the forthcoming elections.
The spirit of freedom abounds across the land and I am humbled to be walking hand in hand with you to our inevitable final victory.
I also want take this opportunity to publicly welcome our guests, the regional and international observers who have come from around the world to bear witness to our historic election on 30 July 2018. This is the first post-Mugabe election. An opportunity to correct and undo past electoral misdemeanours and transgressions known by all of you.
They are here because they know an election is not an event which starts and ends in a single day. It is a process that begins well before polling day and continues well after it, until at least there is transfer of power, which we are confident will happen this year. It is necessary and long overdue.
Thank you for being here with us and I hope you will, during your time here, also enjoy our traditional Zimbabwean hospitality. Our people are kind and generous, please feel at home. And as you travel around our country, please take time to enjoy the gifts of nature that God, the Almighty has bestowed on this wonderful country.
Fellow Zimbabweans, the last few months have been truly phenomenal. As the MDC family, we rose from the depths of mourning and despair when, in February, we lost our icon and father of democracy, Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai to begin to dream and believe once again. His funeral became a seed to the renewal of the spirit of the struggle that he guided with impeccable and courageous leadership.
As I traverse the country, I see great hope and deep passion in the eyes of the people, the young and old, men and women, even boys and girls whose future is at stake in this election.
We are a nation of kind and generous people with great courage, big hearts, resilience and creativity. These qualities have seen us through extremely tough times and we bank on them once again to see us through at this historic moment.
There can be no doubt that we stand at an important juncture in the history of our country. We can choose to be progressive, taking a path that is guided by inter-generational consensus or to look backwards and continue with the old politics and old economics that have left the nation broken, divided, impoverished and desperate beyond measure. The choice is ours and I know we will choose the correct path.
This country, Zimbabwe, attained its independence from the blood of revered and courageous brave men and women who fought and some died for the right of each and every one of us as citizens to have a right to vote for a leader of our choice in an inclusive, free, fair and credible election.
Our forefathers who staged the crusade for the liberation of all African countries and built, to the credit of their legacy, epic institutions such as the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as drivers of prosperity on the continent did so with the wisdom that democracy was the only way by which good governance would be assured.
The challenges of Zimbabwe are way bigger than party politics and go well beyond partisan politics – including my own.
A divided nation is even more destabilizing to a national vision because more important than the vision is ability to execute such vision.
It is clear to me that Zimbabwe is ready for the fulfilment of the message of change that the MDC has been preaching for a long time. There is no doubt in my mind that the people of Zimbabwe are ready to give us the mandate to lead the country to prosperity. We are ready and willing.
However, and regrettably, certain forces that are inimical to progress and reform are standing in the way of the people of this country. This is not new but it cannot be allowed to defeat the will of the people.
An inclusive, free, fair and credible election is the ONLY route to legitimacy, which Zimbabwe desperately needs. Without legitimacy and stability, there can be no economic recovery, let alone progress in this country. But, as I have already said, certain forces are threatening the attainment of that legitimacy and much required stability.
The fulcrum of a free, fair and credible election is the referee. Our referee is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). The referee must not only be fair but it must be seen to be fair. We have serious concerns over the conduct of our referee which we believe is acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the standards of fair play.
The practice of democracy requires that citizens are afforded a free, fair, credible and legitimate process of electing their leaders Over the past two decades Zimbabwe has gone through a series of disputed elections that have plunged the country into a persistent crisis of legitimacy.
Our people are yearning for a fresh start, a new beginning and have a renewed hope and faith in the potential of their country. Zimbabweans want to move forward towards transformation, opportunities and prosperity.
We have come a long way to be here today. The current government which took over from former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017 did so under the pretext that it was going to ensure a free, fair and credible election in 2018.
What we are currently witnessing is a regime that simply talks but does not intend to hold credible elections. We are moving towards a violent free but illegitimate election.
The Zimbabwe constitution in s156 on the conduct of elections and referendums states that:
At every election and referendum, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must ensure that-
(a) whatever voting method is used, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent;
(c) appropriate systems and mechanisms are put in place-
(i) to eliminate electoral violence and other electoral malpractices; and
(ii) to ensure the safekeeping of electoral materials.
Our supreme law clearly envisages a verifiable, secure and transparent election. No one can therefore deny Zimbabweans this entrenched right.
Because of our history of manipulated elections in Zimbabwe, the crisis of credible elections is born out of the mistrust between the government and the people which can only be cured if ZEC and government conducts electoral processes in the utmost transparent manner.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which is constitutionally charged with the administration of elections has shown that it is either incapable or unwilling to provide Zimbabweans with a verifiable, secure and transparent election as required by our law and international standards governing democratic elections.
There has been an insensitive disregard for the principles of transparency. Among other very pertinent issues;
1. ZEC has refused to provide stakeholders with a proper Voters’ Roll as compiled and required by the Electoral Act.
2. ZEC has refused parties an opportunity to observe the printing of ballot papers and proceeded to print without the knowledge and input of stakeholders.
3. ZEC has not put in place mechanisms for joint storage of the printed ballots in a secure manner.
4. ZEC has not put in place mechanisms of transparent distribution of printed ballot papers.
5.ZEC has allowed the state media to run a smear campaign against opposition candidates.
Our Constitution is very clear in section 155 that a candidate must “have reasonable access to all material and information necessary for them to participate effectively”. These materials include the voters roll in its final form and the process of printing ballot papers. ZEC has so far failed to meet these requirements.
Furthermore, section 156 makes it clear that ZEC must ensure that “whatever voting method is used, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent”. We do not believe ZEC has put in place measures to fulfil this obligation, particularly regarding verification, security and transparency of materials used in the election.
Our Constitution is clear. We are not demanding new rights or new laws. We are simply demanding that existing laws and rights be given full effect. That is not too much to ask. ZEC should be working hard to satisfy contestants, instead of ridiculing them by casting aspersions and suggesting that demands are trivial.
It is constitutional for any citizen or candidate to request any information. s62(1) of the constitution – everyone has a right to access information held by the state which information is needed for the exercise of a right
One great concern is over the state of the voters roll. The process of getting the voters roll as required by law has been as painful and excruciating as extracting a tooth. What we got, late and after pressure, was not consistent with the law.
When we push ZEC, it is not because we are being difficult, no. It is because there is a well-known record of non-compliance by ZEC and the State generally. Need we remind everyone that only 5 years ago, ZEC utterly failed to provide the voters roll. This time we have been vigilant and persistent and we will continue to do so.
But even what we got from ZEC falls short of a credible voters roll. We have said so before and repeat it today, with more emphasis. There are many problems with it, including multiple registrations, wrong names and addresses of voters and serious inconsistencies.
In our view, the voters roll is not fit for purpose. It is not legally compliant and cannot credibly be used as a record to conduct the voting process. It is the document which is used to determine who can or cannot vote and we are not convinced that in its current state it can fulfil that purpose and still lead to a legitimate outcome.
Instead of undertaking to correct the numerous errors and inconsistencies in the voters roll, ZEC has chosen to adopt an arrogant and nonchalant approach which demonstrates that it takes Zimbabweans for granted. Instead of promising to correct problems in the voters roll before the election, the ZEC Chairperson sought to downplay the anomalies, as if it is not necessary to correct them. They were aware of the problems and tried to pre-empt challenges before the election.
Another critical issue of concern, and red line relates to ballot papers. We have long argued that there must be fairness and transparency over the printing and distribution of ballot papers. ZEC has again fallen short on this point, making it impossible to ensure there is fairness and transparency.
Fully cognisant of the fact that it is a function of ZEC to design, print and distribute ballot papers in terms of s239 (g) of the Constitution. That function must not be exercised to the negation and invalidation of the inherent fundamental rights of citizens and election candidates to be involved in a fair and transparent process. (see section 62(1); 67(1) & (3) (a); and (b);155 & 156 of the Constitution).
Their promises have been false, designed to cheat and deceive only to create a false impression of compliance when there is none. This practice of box-ticking is mere tokenism which hoodwinks no one if not only a few. Creating a facade of compliance cannot and will confer legitimacy on this election process.
The people at ZEC must know that the authority they exercise is borrowed from the people of Zimbabwe. The Constitution makes it clear that authority to govern comes from the people and those who exercise State functions are mere agents, not principals. The principals are the people. As principals, the people can withdraw that authority from those who abuse or take it for granted.
We want to make it clear that we will not stand in the way of the people should they seek to exercise their constitutional rights to withdraw that authority from those who fail to exercise it in accordance with the law.
We are embarking on a process of consulting stakeholders across the country and in the region to decide on the way forward in light of the intransigence we are facing from a stubborn, partisan and arrogant referee. We will listen to the genuine aspirations of the people because ultimately they are the repositories of all authority.
In 2013, after ZANU PF stole the election, the late icon, Dr Tsvangirai said the costs of electoral theft to the nation would be enormous. He was right as the evidence around the country shows. It is the ordinary men and women who have had to carry that cost, not the ZANU PF elites and their families and associates. Another illegitimate election in 2018 will simply add the amount of costs.
Unfortunately, ZEC and their associates are not doing enough to prevent illegitimacy. This is why we insist that they must change. We will not stand in the way of the people in their demand for peace, stability and legitimacy.
I have requested to meet with his Excellency the President of Zimbabwe over these issues. Of course the stakes are huge.
So let’s engage on the very real discrepancies in question. This accomplishes the trust and builds the structures that are lacking in a transparent election. We will accept the victory of any other provided it is done freely and fairly. We simply request the same.
To the people of Zimbabwe, we are with you all the way. We will not allow your democratic will to be diluted or thwarted once again. Your courage in the face of obstacles is well known. Your desire for freedom and economic prosperity is common cause.
My team and I are ready to lead you to demand the legitimacy that is needed for this country to move forward. Freedom lies in our hearts, in our hands and in our legs. It is not going to be delivered on a silver platter. We have to demand it. We cannot allow the current charade to go on unchallenged.
Once again, we wish to impress upon our beloved neighbours under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and our dear brothers in the African Union (AU) to ensure that this election is truly free, fair and credible in terms of the standards guiding democratic elections.
For this election to pass the barest minimum standards of verifiability, security and transparency around the Voters’ Roll and ballot papers, ZEC must ensure that:
I.The full version of the Voters’ Roll is immediately provided to the parties and independently audited.
II. There is transparent printing of ballot papers and observation of the printing process by candidates.
III. The printed ballot papers are stored in a secure place where there is inclusive stakeholder participation and joint security.
IV. The distribution of ballot papers to the polling stations is done in an inclusive, transparent and traceable manner where stakeholders participate.
This election is crucial in allowing Zimbabweans to move forward. However, only a true and democratic election can afford the people of Zimbabwe opportunity to choose their own leaders.
We are not by any chance disillusioned in our demand for transparency. We are quite informed on the mechanisms used in the past to manipulate the vote using the Voters’ Roll, ballot papers and polling station deployments.
Our constitution guarantees us the right to access information held by the state and its organs. The vote must be secret but the election must not held in secrecy. Section 62(1) of the Constitution clearly states:
Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident, including juristic persons and the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level, in so far as the information is required in the interests of public accountability.
We want to make it clear, that anything short of a free, fair and credible election as envisaged by our constitution will not be allowed to take place in Zimbabwe.
In the absence of procedural certainty, verifiability of the election will be put into question. If the content and process of this election does not pass these key requirements, then there will be no election.
In 2018, our country certainly cannot afford yet another disputed election lest our people begin to lose hope in democracy as a system of governance.
Our people are tired and cannot take it anymore. We are therefore prepared to defend our people’s right to a free, fair and credible election in Zimbabwe.
It is clear that we have an election process stalemate arising out of the ballot scandal and the Voters’ Roll inadequacies and omissions. This has culminated in an election crisis.
For the avoidance of doubt, we do not and will not accept the current ballot paper that has been printed without our participation.
As a way forward –
a. the unilateral, illegitimate and illegal ongoing printing of sham ballot papers must stop immediately.
b. An inclusive transparent process of designing, printing, storing and distributing of ballot papers must be agreed by all stakeholders.
c. There must be an emergency meeting with ZEC to resolve all these urgent issues.
d. An urgent meeting with President Mnangagwa in his capacity as the head of state and as a candidate.
e. Embarking on a nationwide stakeholder consultation on the correct path to resolve the impasse.
f. Dispatching special envoys and messages to SADC, AU and the international community.
g. Briefing all the international observers on the current electoral logjam.
We therefore call upon SADC, the AU and the international community to intervene and save a collapsing process and abate am imminent legitimacy crisis.
I thank you.