Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Independent Observers Claim Massive Vote Fraud

Domestic monitoring group allege major abuses ranging from intimidation to widespread ballot-stuffing.
By IWPR Srdan

Zimbabwe's leading domestic election monitoring organisation has condemned the conduct of the 2005 parliamentary poll, saying it was conducted in an atmosphere of fear and in defiance of regional guidelines for a free and fair ballot.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, ZESN, a grouping of 35 human rights organisations, said that in many constituencies, there were huge discrepancies between the number of votes recorded as cast and those finally published, suggesting ballot-stuffing or a simple manipulation of the data.

In the Manyame constituency, for example, said ZESN chairman Dr Richard Matchaba-Hove, an extra 10,000 votes appeared between the closing of the polls, when the number of votes cast was declared, and the announcement of the result.

The opposition MDC was expected to win the seat, southwest of Harare, but it unexpectedly went to the ruling ZANU PF party candidate, Patrick Zhuwawo, who is President Robert Mugabe's nephew.

Some 23,760 votes were finally declared as having been cast at Manyame.

But when the polls closed a few hours earlier, election officers said 14,812 people had voted. At this point, MDC candidate Hilda Mafuze had won 8,312 or 56 per cent of the votes cast, giving her an unassailable lead.

However, when the final verdict was announced centrally, the ZANU PF candidate got 15,448 votes or 65 per cent of the new total.

"I won, I was leading," said Mafudze. "Suddenly I hear about 24,000 votes being cast and I don't know where the extra 10,000 came from."

Human rights organisations and opposition parties have claimed that some one to two million dead people, so-called "zombie voters", were on electoral lists that were compiled by ZANU PF and that were not open to inspection by opposition candidates.

Zhuwawo is the son of Sabina Mugabe, the president's sister, who was herself elected in the nearby constituency of Norton, where she has taken over three farms confiscated from their white owners. They include Gowrie Farm where the farmer, Terry Ford, was bludgeoned and shot to death three years ago.

Similar discrepancies were noted in other constituencies. At Goromonzi, 48 kilometres east of Harare, the 15,611 votes recorded at close of polling on March 31 had shot up by 62 per cent to 25,360 when the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission came out with its final tally the following day. Here, too, the seat was taken by ZANU PF.

Matchaba-Hove said ZESN was still preparing its final comprehensive report, but results from Manyame, Goromonzi and many other constituencies had "serious implications on the credibility of the electoral process".

He said it was already clear that the election did not comply with the guidelines set out last August by the 14 heads of state of the Southern African Development Community, SADC, the most powerful regional grouping, for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. President Mugabe was one of the 14 signatories.

ZESN believes that tens of thousands of people, perhaps as much as ten per cent of the electorate, were turned away from the polling booths. They were either told they had the wrong documentation or were in the wrong constituency.

"Official figures provided by the electoral commission indicate that the number of votes cast and those turned away by close of polling in six provinces totalled 130,000 or ten per cent of the voters [in those provinces]," said ZESN’s interim report.

"For instance, in Makoni East, where ZANU PF won by 9,201 votes compared to the MDC's 7,708, a total of 2,223 voters were turned away. In addition, in Mutasa South ZANU PF got 9,715 and MDC got 9,380 votes, while 1,460 voters were turned away. In both cases, the number of voters turned away was higher than the margin of victory."

Another concern raised by Matchaba-Hove was that opposition parties were not free to campaign "in certain parts of the country, as some of these were no-go areas for the opposition".

ZESN’s interim report said, "Traditional leaders [chiefs and village headmen] threatened their subjects with eviction and sometimes unspecified action should they fail to vote for the ruling party."

This claim was in accordance with evidence gathered by IWPR that the principal mechanism used to rig the ballot was the influence ZANU PF exerted over rural areas in Mashonaland, where the majority of the country’s population lives.

In these ethnically Shona areas, ZANU PF party officials had a longstanding practice of dividing the population into cells of 500 people, and for the election there was one polling station sited in each of these localities.

This structure allowed ZANU PF activists and the Green Bombers, members of Mugabe's National Youth Militia, to get residents to vote in their ward. Many in this rural population are illiterate and will follow instructions delivered by their local chief. Communal chiefs receive their salaries from the ZANU PF government.

In these areas, out of sight and earshot of election observers and the foreign press, the message conveyed was that the community as a whole would be held to account if MDC votes were found in the ballot box. One warning was that farmers would have their agricultural plots repossessed if members of their community voted the wrong way.

It is unclear how such communities would have voted had such pressure not been brought to bear on them. Rural groups have suffered more than their urban counterparts as the economy declines. In these areas, staples such as bread, sugar and maize are in short supply.

Part of ZANU PF’s power in the countryside comes from the fact that its officials are the conduit for food distribution.

Until last year, international non-government organisations such as Oxfam, Care International and World Vision donated basic food for survival, but they were expelled by Mugabe, who said they were supporting the MDC. That left the government as sole guardian and distributor of food supplies.

Another problematic area in this election was the constraints placed on media. ZESN noted that in direct contravention of a key SADC guideline, "there was no equal access to the media by political parties".

ZANU PF monopolised the print and electronic media. The MDC was given access to radio and TV, both entirely controlled by the state, on a limited basis and only for a few days close to polling day.

The MDC is claiming it would have won 94 of the 120 elected parliamentary seats if the election had been free and fair. Instead, it won 41 against ZANU PF's 78. One independent won a seat.

David Coltart, the party's legal affairs spokesman and a member of parliament, estimates that a quarter of million ZANU PF votes may have been stuffed into strategic ballot boxes after polls closed.

He said the MDC is preparing a report on widespread election fraud, including the "major disparities" between the voting numbers reported at close of polling and those announced later by the national electoral commission. The MDC has produced an initial list of 30 constituencies where it believes there was ballot stuffing.

“This analysis does not even take into account the uneven electoral playing field, the inflated voters’ roll, the coercion of the rural electorate, nor the high number of people who were turned away on polling day,” said an MDC spokesman.

All of the foreign observer teams, cherry-picked by President Mugabe because they were unlikely to raise concerns, have returned favourable reports on the conduct of the election. Observer teams from countries which were critical of the last election, such as those from the European Union, United States, Britain, Japan, Australia and the Commonwealth, were banned from entering the country.

The observer mission from SADC, which had laid down the guidelines for the election, said Mugabe had met these standards. "It is SADC's overall view that the elections were conducted in an open, transparent and professional manner," said a SADC spokesman.

Meanwhile, a row has broken out in the South African multi-party government delegation. This observer team was sent to Zimbabwe after South African president Thabo Mbeki had declared the election "free and fair" even before Zimbabweans had gone to the polls.

The delegation head, African National Congress, ANC, chief parliamentary whip Mbulelo Goniwe, declared the election "credible, legitimate, free and fair" within a few hours of the polls closing.

But three opposition members of parliament from the official South African opposition, the Democratic Alliance, and from the small Independent Democratic Party, broke ranks and accused Goniwe of a "blatant attempt to stifle debate and dissenting views on the crisis within Zimbabwe".

Noting that Goniwe had said he would not allow team members to issue a minority report, Independent Democrat Vincent Gore said, "Evidently the chief whip has little regard for values such as freedom of expression as enshrined in our constitution."

Democratic Alliance parliamentarian Dianne Kohler-Barnard said most of the observers picked by Mugabe had not actually left "their air-conditioned comfort zones to ask the tough questions at the grassroots level, and therefore could not declare these elections to have been free and fair."

Kohler-Barnard said she had broken away from the official group, and had travelled to most parts of the country. "I have satisfied myself that this sham of an election has been one of the most cynical frauds perpetrated on the international community in electoral history," she said.

Goniwe said he would introduce a motion in the South African parliament when it reconvenes to discipline the opposition members who left the official delegation, and who went against his instructions by not signing up to his consensus report affirming the fairness of the election.

In Cape Town, the official leader of the opposition, Tony Leon of the Democratic Alliance, said it was clear that "the South African government and the ANC went to Zimbabwe with the aim of declaring the election as 'free and fair', come what may, and with their report already pre-certified by President Thabo Mbeki".

Dzikamayi Chidyausiku is a pseudonym for an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

More IWPR's Global Voices