How to Steal Elections - Zimbabwean Style

As Zimbabwe prepares for elections in the foreseable future, one would imagine the following views to be circulating within a certain small, retrogressive camp bent on reversing democratic transition:

Well, never mind what has happened to Wade in Senegal, he is spineless, why concede defeat when the entire state machinery is behind you? In any case, elections are not stolen, or won on the day of the vote, but way, way in advance. For anyone in need of the basics in 'managing' elections then the following easy steps should be committed to memory and applied with the necessary changes in a given situation.

The first step is to ensure total control of the kind of information that people receive in the country - and this is achieved chiefly through control of state television, radion and papers. Make sure privately owned papers have a difficult time operating, threaten them, arrest one or two of their leaders - then self-censorship will follow. If the the daily circulation of private papers is small, never mind them, but never ever let them operate community radio stations or independent national radio stations. If pressed to free the airwaves, you are better off creating private companies - clones of your own image, to grant them licenses and satisfy the requirement of plurity or radio stations.

You may allow other political parties to operate, but do not grant them access to the people. Here you will find it useful to use a raft of laws that regulate public order and security - and the access to information and protection of privacy. Use the law effectively to show who is in charge - even if it is absolutely ridiculous that six people could topple your government through watching an Arab Spring video - cause them to be charged, tortured, convicted and sentenced harshly. This serves as a reminder to like-minded activists that you are in charge, and that your political hand is inside the judiciary glove. Be careful who is recruited and promoted in the police, the central intelligence and the army - you would not want to rely on independent people to ensure you stay in power - get only those whose history is clear, and whose loyalty is proven. On paper, do not temper with the independence of national institutions, but in practice, make sure it is only card-carrying cadres who run the show.

Specific to elections, if the regional bloc insists on the need to have a set of new commissioners for the electoral management body - comply - but make sure you retain staff from old commissions, who are thoroughly schooled in the art of rigging - and many of whom belong to the military and state intelligence. Limit the mandate of the Electoral Commission - do not permit it to clean up the voters roll, or to carry out the delimitation exercise. Instead, keep that roll with the ever loyal Registrar General - he knows the ropes. Do not let any United Nations Paris Principles on the independence of national commissions stand in your way - make sure you own political appointee - the minister of justice has total control of the Electoral Commission and of resources allocated to it and the electoral commission must know who butters their bread.

Talking of bread being buttered, make sure you have sufficient resources to keep your key players happy. Well, just thank your ancestors Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi   who have blessed you in the east with vast diamond resources with a ready market in the global east. Again, thank you young, thuggish ministers who came up with a brilliant idea, after grabbing the farms, of grabbing foreign owned companies in the name of indigenization. You are guaranteed of enough resources to start a small war during elections, but this must come only as a last resort. First, plead with them to see sense and return to their natural home within your party.

The gods have been gracious by withholding rains this year - a drought is guaranteed - presenting you with a perfect opportunity to buy votes using food. First - ban those good for nothing western NGOS involved in the food aid business and be father christmas yourself. If villagers know what is good for them they will vote for you.

Remember the mistakes of 2008 - open , uncontrolled violence.   This time violence must come only as the last resort. Intimidation should be enough. But to succeed, make sure whatever reforms you concede to are meaningless and largely cosmetic. Whatever they say, no reforms must touch to nerve centre of your power - the security sector. Do whatever it takes to break up SADC consensus on the need for democratic elections. Cut deals, bribe some, threaten some, offer them a vote for their candidate at the AU - if they will shut up about electoral reforms. If they want to construct a railway line through your country then they must make less noise about western concepts of democracy and human rights respect.

Do not allow too many domestic and foreign observers to see what is happening in the country - allow them to come a week before elections and stay a few days after. And all this time keep the bulk of them in hotels in the capital. Even before elections come, prepare for the next round of power-sharing government talks. As you may have noticed, some in the pro-democracy movement can be co-opted. Do not allow them to dangle carrots to induce you to leave office, instead, go for the pre-emptive strike, dangle the carrots for them to join you in office and shut up about this human rights nonsense. If you accomplish that, you would have mastered the art of stealing elections Zimbabwean style.

Dewa Mavhinga, Acting Director & Regional Coordinator, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

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