The mystery of Zimbabwe’s 700,000 ghost votes
Mnangagwa’s victory margin was too small to be taken seriously, and despite Chamisa’s well-founded court challenge the result is likely to stand, as hope for a better future evaporates
Why can’t elections ever be simple in Zimbabwe? Why do they always have to be hideous at worst and complicated at best?
That, more or less, is what most urban folk say or would say if asked about the state of play after opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa lodged his challenge to results of the presidential election at the Constitutional Court in Harare last Friday.
The court can insist on a recount, declare a winner, or call for a fresh or run-off election in 60 days. It must make its decision, which cannot be challenged, by month-end.
The format for the present challenge emerged from multiparty negotiations for the 2013 constitution because in previous elections, beginning with the presidential poll in 2002, the MDC had been fobbed off by the court system.
But most punters say they expect Emmerson Mnangagwa’s victory to endure, despite the legal challenge. The nine-member Constitutional Court is, they say, beholden to Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF. Records suggest that only one or two judges of the court can be relied on to deliver on the law.
Zimbabwe’s judiciary, with some notable exceptions in the three higher courts, is thought to have been regularly biased since the emergence of the MDC in late 1999.
There are several already well-publicised points within Chamisa’s challenge that suggest electoral law was broken: the media’s crude, persistent bias; the ballot paper which, counter to procedure, gave the more prominent position to Mnangagwa’s face; and the few thousand policemen who were said to have executed their postal votes under scrutiny of their commanding officers.
It is thought that 40,000 teachers who may have been on duty on election day, and who are usually opposition supporters, weren’t able to vote.
But the most shocking chapter is the gross miscounts by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Some are absurd clerical errors, released by the commission and published in a 70-page supplement in the state’s main daily newspaper, The Herald.
• It is hard to see how the commission will mount any defence of errors that include:
• More ballot papers counted than registered voters;
• Duplicated figures replicated at several polling stations;
• Candidates scoring the same number of votes at different polling stations; and
• Results that don’t add up to 100% of the vote.
Results announced by the commission also sometimes differed from what was released online.
Several lawyers not connected with the case have read the submission and suggest that at the least the ZEC should be sacked because it could not manage the arithmetic.
Some wonder whether the ZEC has summoned staff to correct clerical errors before they come under scrutiny by the court.
It is clear the ZEC did not have systems to manage the election arithmetic.
Mnangagwa won only 313,027 more votes than Chamisa in an election in which 72% of registered voters — just more than 4.03 million people — went to the polls, according to the ZEC. But the ZEC’s published results, available on CD, provide voter turnout figures of more than 4.7 million people. Chamisa says in his challenge that 700,000 more votes were counted than the ZEC says actually voted. Who were these voters?
Furthermore, the Electoral Act says the winner of the presidential poll must win 50%-plus 1 of the votes. So Mnangagwa’s 50.8% victory is tiny.
The Institute for Security Studies’ Derek Matyszak questions the accuracy of the ZEC’s result and the narrowness of Mnangagwa’s margin of victory.
Matyszak says he expects the state to argue that Chamisa "should have called for a recount within 48 hours".
He also expects the Constitutional Court to declare Mnangagwa the winner, that the elections were free and fair, and that Chamisa must carry the costs of the case.
Matyszak says the court will likely say it did not have time to write the judgment — as happened after the 2013 elections. "The reasons followed four years later," he says, with a "bizarre ruling" written by then deputy chief justice Luke Malaba.
Malaba, now in the top job, will lead the Constitutional Court for this case.
None of this suggests the MDC was perfect in its execution of the election; the party did not manage its election efforts efficiently in many rural areas. But the data in Chamisa’s challenge is much wider than what occurred at polling stations.
So what will happen if the court maintains Mnangagwa won? Will Chamisa send his people out on a demonstration that invites reaction from the army? Or, if the court rules against Mnangagwa, will Zanu-PF members — among them newly elected MPs anxious to receive their government vehicles — send their supporters out on the streets in protest?
Adding to its woes, Zimbabwe is bankrupt. It can’t afford to stall.
The situation is so bad diplomats say there will be no loans and no sympathy. The hope of a better future is gone.