Court about turn


The Electoral Court which had ruled in favour of jailed Movement for Democratic Change Member of Parliament for Chimanimani Roy Bennett reversed itself in consultation with Bennett’s lawyers after an emotional public attack on the decision by President Robert Mugabe.

According to the United States embassy serious resource and procedural constraints made the court’s capacity to handle any large volume of disputes questionable.


Full cable:


If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID





2005-03-28 12:16


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000467







E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010





REF: (A) HARARE 459 (B) HARARE 428 (C) HARARE 418 (D)



Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d






1. (C) With less than a week to go before Zimbabwe,s

electorate goes to the polls the result is uncertain. The

election playing field is heavily tilted in the ruling

party’s favor. However, the MDC has proven stronger than

expected and ZANU-PF weaker. Mugabe,s gamble to reduce

violence in order to legitimize the election may backfire.

The MDC believes it is poised to win 70-80 seats, perhaps

enough for a majority in the 150 seat unicameral parliament

despite the 30 seats Mugabe appoints. There are too many

unknown factors, principally the extent to which the ruling

party will cheat on election day, to embrace the MDC,s

optimism. Still, we find it increasingly likely that the MDC

will win at least 51 seats, preventing a two-thirds majority

for ZANU-PF and likely setting the stage for resumed

intra-party negotiations following the election.




Election Framework Heavily Favors Ruling Party



2. (C) As we reported earlier (Ref D), Zimbabwe,s election

falls far short of the South African Development Community,s

(SADC) guidelines and is heavily tilted in favor of the

ruling ZANU-PF party. Zimbabwe’s repressive laws and biased

institutions remain fundamental flaws in the election

environment. Start with the fact that only 120 out of 150

seats are directly elected. Under the constitution,

President Mugabe chooses the other 30. As a result, the

opposition needs to win a super-majority of 76 seats to take

control of parliament. In addition, five years of GOZ

repression and harassment of the opposition and its

supporters have likely cowed the populace, conditioning them

to accept yet another fraudulent outcome. The regime’s legal

toolbox of repression is also fuller now than ever. The

Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to

Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) were both

strengthened during the last session of Parliament and the

infamous NGO bill, though unsigned, has also loomed in the

background and limited civil society activism.


3. (C) A host of other GOZ policies and decisions have served

to undermine the integrity of the election. New legal

constraints have reduced the level of voter education

nationally and brought more of it under state control,

although key NGOs, such as the Zimbabwe Election Support

Network, have been conducting voter education despite the

constraints. Furthermore, a recent adverse court decision

effectively squelched political and legal campaigns to extend

the vote to the three million-strong Zimbabwean diaspora.

The so-called Delimitation Commission also gerrymandered

three constituencies from MDC-controlled areas to ZANU-PF

areas, ostensibly justified by voter registration numbers,

and safe MDC majorities in urban constituencies have been

diluted by the inclusion of additional voters from nearby

rural traditional ZANU-PF areas. However, the lack of

transparency and apparent poor state of the voter rolls is

itself potentially the most problematic aspect of the



4. (C) Finally, although the recently passed Zimbabwe

Electoral Act incorporated some of the opposition’s technical

demands (i.e., translucent ballot boxes, one-day voting,

ballot counting at the polling station) for election

administration, it did so on the government,s terms. The

ruling party has cynically misused aspects of the technical

reforms to manipulate and intimidate some of the electorate,

especially in rural areas where voters are told that reforms

will help the ruling party know how individuals and

communities voted.



Pre-Election Environment: Less Violent but Still Distorted


5. (C) We reported recently (Ref A) on the significantly

reduced levels of election violence, which does mark a

significant improvement, regardless of the GOZ,s motivation.

However, as we also reported fear remains a significant

factor in many constituencies, particularly in rural areas.

Forms of intimidation vary, but typically revolve around

threatened withholding of government benefits to individuals

or communities or physical violence targeting opposition

supporters after the election.


6. (C) Campaign space and freedom of assembly still fall far

short of SADC guidelines and international norms but have

improved significantly compared to the 2000 and 2002

elections. Authorities have permitted the opposition to

campaign widely, frequently, and without physical disruption

in most areas over the past month. However, that the MDC

(and civil society) must receive permission at all

distinguishes the opposition it sharply from the ruling

party, for which permission is perfunctorily given, if sought

at all.


7. (C) The GOZ is also continuing to use State assets to

support ZANU-PF,s campaign. The most cynical example is its

manipulation of food. The GOZ is exploiting national food

distribution to favor the ruling party’s election prospects

as hunger grows in most parts of the country. The most

common practice appears to be channeling the para-statal

Grain Marketing Board,s (GMB) distributions through ruling

party MP candidates or rallies. While food is the most

prominent abuse of GOZ resources, the ruling party taps into

a host of GOZ benefits (e.g., fuel, agricultural inputs,

“free cash” for the ostensibly disadvantaged) to secure voter

support. The ruling party has also stepped up its efforts to

influence votes by controlling locally influential chiefs

through cash payouts and other leverage. We have witnessed

police and military in uniform at ZANU-PF party offices

moving campaign paraphernalia and food.


8. (C) State controls on the media remain yet another

significant advantage for the ruling party. Recently

implemented regulations afford the opposition radio and TV

space for paid advertising (reportedly at rates significantly

higher than ZANU-PF pays) and state news coverage has been

giving the MDC unprecedented exposure. Nonetheless, news

reporting continues to feature the ruling party more

prominently and favorably, and ruling party ad spots far

outnumber opposition ones. According to MDC Shadow Minister

for Foreign Affairs Priscilla Misihairabwa-Mushonga, the

state TV informed the MDC that its political advertising

would no longer be aired after Sunday, March 26. No reason

was offered. The MDC has not been given access to the state

print media, which continues to be heavily biased in its news

reporting. Moreover, AIPPA continues to chill freedom of

speech and to be applied in a purely partisan manner. The

nation’s only opposition-aligned daily newspaper remains

closed (Ref C), and a new independent weekly was closed

earlier this year within months of its opening over purported

violations of AIPPA. GOZ office raids last month prompted

four local journalists associated with foreign publications

to flee the country.



Election Day Concerns



9. (C) Most observers here expect little overt violence on

election day but we cannot rule out the possibility in

selected constituencies, especially if national or local

ruling party leaders conclude that violence is the only way

to secure what they regard as a particularly vital seat.

That said, prospects of other kinds of skullduggery seem more

probable. The poor state of the voter rolls is a primary

concern. There were widespread reports of GOZ-ballot

stuffing in past elections. There are currently 5.8 million

voters are on the rolls, an increase of 200,000 in just the

past two weeks (well after registration was to have ended)

and a sizeable increase over the numbers in 2002 ) despite

the fact that some 3 million Zimbabweans have left the



10. (C) In addition, opposition polling agents and

independent observers will have difficulty fully covering the

more than 8,000 polling stations, many of them in remote

rural areas. These remote polling stations reportedly will

also not do vote counting &in situ8 given the lack of

electricity, but will have to transport their ballots to

other polling stations to be counted ) further raising

concerns of fraud. More subtle forms of vote-rigging ) the

presence of traditional chiefs, party people appearing to

record names, etc. ) are also likely to influence the voting

at many polling stations, especially in rural areas. MDC

leaders assure us that they have identified at least four

party polling agents to staff each polling station, and ZESN

advised that it already has more than 6,000 accredited

observers but it remains to be seen how effective they will

be in preventing ruling party fraud. (Note: The diplomatic

community is planning to deploy about 50 teams of observers,

including 25 U.S. Embassy teams, that will visit polling

stations in 75 of the 120 contested constituencies. End



11. (C) The performance of key election institutions ) the

Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), the Electoral Supervisory

Commission (ESC), and the ad hoc electoral court ) remain

potentially key unknown variables. In its first substantive

decision, the electoral court surprisingly ruled in favor of

jailed MDC MP Roy Bennett (Ref B) but reversed itself in

consultation with Bennett’s lawyers after an emotional public

attack on the decision by Mugabe. In any event, serious

resource and procedural constraints make the court’s capacity

to handle any large volume of disputes questionable. The

ZEC, which was constituted only in February, lacks sufficient

resources or track record to inspire much confidence.

Nonetheless, the opposition, which consulted with the GOZ on

the ZEC’s composition, grudgingly accepted its authority

publicly, and confided to us that it had faith in three or

four of the five commissioners. Finally, the ESC

historically has been technically competent in most areas but

either powerless or too partisan to address significant

inter-party disputes in the field. Embassy field trips so

far suggest that the coordination and quality of ZEC and ESC

officials is uneven at best.



And the Winner Is?



12. (C) Despite the ruling party’s overwhelming advantages,

the opposition has effectively exploited the openings

available to it and made significant inroads nationally,

including in former “no-go” areas. The size and frequency of

MDC rallies have been impressive. The party’s exposure on

radio, TV and in the independent media and its growing

rallies have created a buzz in much of the country, and our

sense is that the political apathy endemic just six months

ago is yielding to an atmosphere of cautious hope. With

USAID-funded assistance from IRI and NDI and others, the MDC

is projecting a message that appears to be resonating with a

beleaguered electorate. ZANU-PF’s contentious primaries,

Party Congress, and widely publicized espionage and

corruption scandals have fueled divisions and disaffection

within the ruling party, sapping its energy and further

fueling the appearance of an opening for the opposition. The

collapsing economy and growing hunger in the face of all GOZ

propaganda to the contrary further undermine ZANU-PF support

in both rural and urban areas.


13. (C) Buoyed by its unprecedented exposure and connection

with the electorate, the MDC leadership speaks confidently of

winning 70-80 seats. An increasing number of observers

outside the party also acknowledge that most voters may be

prepared to signal “zvakwna” – the opposition slogan meaning

“enough!” Winning more than half the contested seats, 61,

could be enough to bring into question the democratic

legitimacy of the GOZ. There are too many key unknown

variables – the impact of a legacy of fear and continuing

intimidation, whether voter apathy will prevail, and the

degree to which ZANU-PF will cheat ) for us to endorse the

MDC,s optimism. That said, we are increasingly confident

that the MDC will win at least the 51 seats it needs to

continue to block the ruling party’s intended constitutional

amendments and setting the stage for renewed intra-party

negotiations. The stronger the showing by the MDC, the more

likely the prospect that the end-game of Mugabe’s long rule

will have begun. Conversely, were ZANU-PF and Mugabe to

steal the elecitons and claim a 2/3 majority based on fraud

and cheating alone, the end-game may begin in a different





Don't be shellfish... Please SHARETweet about this on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Email this to someone
Print this page

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *