The Commonwealth election observer mission to Zimbabwe yesterday dropped a bombshell, describing electoral reform demands by opposition MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa ahead of Monday’s general elections as “reasonable and justified”.

Team leader and former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama told journalists in Harare that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had a legal duty to consider input from all stakeholders “to create a level playing field and an opportunity for anybody participating to be able to win”.

He said there was nothing amiss in Chamisa’s demand for transparency in the electoral processes, including printing and security of the ballot papers.

Mahama warned that their observer mission report would guide Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland to decide whether Zimbabwe qualifies for readmission into the former British colonies’ club.

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“We are aware that Zimbabwe seeks to rejoin the Commonwealth. I believe these elections will play a key part in looking at this assessment,” Mahama said

“The Commonwealth observes elections only in member countries. Zimbabwe was a member of the Commonwealth and this mission came as special request of the government and so even though it is an exceptional case, the secretary-general Patricia Scotland sent this mission,” Mahama added.

Chamisa has threatened to stop the Monday elections, demanding transparency in the printing of the ballot paper and security of the ballot, but Zec has dismissed his demands as outrageous.

Mahama told journalists that political parties had a right to be heard by Zec, if democratic elections were to be achieved.

“During the run-up to elections, no demand is unreasonable and it is for Zec to listen to those complaints and look at the law to see if it can be amended,” he said.

“So no demand is unreasonable and every political party has a right to push to ensure there is democracy and given that elections are a human process, we need to consider everybody’s demands.”

Mahama said issues raised by opposition political parties and civil society groups were mostly to do with the quality of the voters’ roll, layout of the ballot paper, fairness and access to the media.

“We were discussing with Zec yesterday about the printing of the ballot papers and everywhere in the world it is the role of the electoral commission to do so. But in the future, Zec might want to ensure every stakeholder can be part of the process,” he said.

Mahama said he was confident Zec would polish the rough edges and resolve the outstanding issues before Monday’s elections.

“The key issue is to create a level playing field and an opportunity for anybody participating to be able to win. There must be transparency, fairness, access to the media and a voting process where people have access to cast their votes, and those issues will be factored in our final report,” Mahama added.

The Ghanaian politician chronicled how in 1991, the Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Harare and issued a seminal declaration committing their countries to a set of principles, including democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, a just and honest government and fundamental human rights.

In 2003, Zimbabwe pulled a shocker and withdrew from the Commonwealth after former President Robert Mugabe was cornered by Western countries over gross human rights abuses and electoral fraud.

In May this year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa then wrote to Scotland, asking her to initiate the re-admission process.

Addressing journalists in the capital yesterday, Chamisa ruled out boycotting the forthcoming elections despite raising concerns over the uneven playfield, saying he would participate “to validate our victory”.

“If they rig or cheat, they will face the consequences. It’s not a threat, but reality. We will not accept any fake result or any fiction. We will only accept genuine elections. If there is going to be any genuine election, it will only be an MDC Alliance victory,” he said.

“We are not accepting anything less than a victory for the people. We have the capacity to make this country ungovernable and if we are to do it, Mnangagwa would not be able to stop it. We must be applauded for keeping things together because the youth are willing to go an extra mile.”

The 40-year-old presidential candidate alleged Zanu PF was now panicking.

“Mnangagwa is staring defeat. He should not be afraid of the inevitable. We want to assure Mnangagwa that he has nothing to be scared of; he must be there to accept defeat with magnanimity. And we are there to embrace him as a former President, as a citizen and as a liberation war icon,” Chamisa said after holding marathon meetings with his party’s top organs and fellow MDC Alliance principals to review the electoral environment.

“We can’t boycott ourselves; that is what losers would want us to do. We don’t take advice from losers. The people want us to defeat dictatorship, tyranny, poverty and hopelessness. This is why we are giving them a fighting chance. I can’t be written in history as the person who betrayed and deprived the people of their God-given right,” Chamisa said.

He added that his party had put in place mechanisms to guard against Zanu PF’s manipulation of the vote.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell has welcomed the widening of the democratic space in Zimbabwe ahead of the elections.

“It is encouraging to see open political rallies and peaceful demonstrations being held in Harare, as well as the many expressions of cautious optimism from civil society,” she said.

“The presence of some international human rights organisations, in addition to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to monitor the human rights environment around the upcoming national elections is also a welcome sign.”

The UN Rights Commission, however, raised concern over reports of violence and voter intimidation, particularly in rural areas.

The African Union (AU) Observer Mission to Zimbabwe on the other hand urged aggrieved opposition parties to follow legal channels for recourse.

AU Observer Mission to Zimbabwe head and former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn Boshe told journalists that they were not in the country to decide on the result, but to see whether the process and framework was democratic.

“We encourage all parties to take part in the process and continue with the democratic process. They should also follow the legal channels to resolve their grievances,” Boshe said.

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