A LEADING Zimbabwean political commentator has predicted "unprecedented chaos" in elections scheduled for March 29, as European Union foreign ministers on Monday pushed President Robert Mugabe to ensure the electoral process is "free and fair".
Political scientist and independent MP for Tsholotsho Professor Jonathan Moyo said Zimbabwe was going into an election it could not afford after a constitutional amendment passed last year brought forward council, senate, parliamentary and presidential elections to be held on the same day.
Moyo, a respected academic and former information minister, said the Zanu PF government had no capacity to run such a mammoth election. He said the chaos that characterised the sitting of the nomination courts around the country on February 15 was a clear indicator that the government was ill-prepared for the synchronised polls.
He said the nomination process was marred by inadequate manpower, a shambolic voters' roll, power-cuts, and the unavailability of a delimitation report to guide candidates on constituency boundaries.
Moyo said: "You will witness unprecedented chaos from 7AM to 7PM on March 29 not because of any political mischief by Zanu PF, but purely on technical grounds. The state is going to be stretched to the limit."
Speaking to journalists at a press club in Harare last Wednesday, Moyo said the Zanu PF government did not have the budget as well as the technical capacity to successfully run the harmonised elections - a sure recipe for disaster.
He said: "This election is going to be very, very expensive. I agree with those who say democracy is very expensive and if you look at the government budget, you will realise that we are going to have an election we cannot afford."
Moyo said it was also going to be difficult to recruit enough and reliable manpower to run the polls given that a lot of teachers who have worked as polling officers in past elections have left the country while the remaining ones are on strike.
Moyo said: "We do not have enough human resources to run this election. There are no teachers for example. The teachers who used to be recruited as polling officers are just not there. They have left the country."
The former university lecturer said he got surprised to hear that there was a teachers' strike going on at schools. He said: "I wonder who is on strike because the teachers are not there. They have left. And I can tell you disaster is very easy to predict in such a scenario as ours."
Teachers went on strike last month demanding a review of their monthly pay after soldiers got a salary windfall which excluded all other government workers. Moyo blasted Mugabe -- his former boss -- for calling "needless, synchronised elections", saying only the presidential poll was due since only the state president's term of office had expired.
He explained: "We did not need to have elections for local government councils and the House of Assembly. It's only the president's tenure that had expired and the country's constitution only required that elections be held to elect a president not all of us."
Mugabe's strategists, Moyo said, had come up with the idea of the joint elections as a way of allowing the ageing leader to be assisted by aspiring councillors and legislators in his controversial re-election bid.
He observed: "Mugabe's strategy here was very simple. If you want every Zanu PF politician to support the candidature of the president then you must create a risk for them as well. To create the risk, you dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections even before the MPs' terms have expired."
The European Union on Monday urged President Mugabe to ensure a free and fair poll, although EU ministers said they were increasingly worried the Southern African nation's dire political and economic state will endanger a vote that would meet international standards.
"The voice of the people of Zimbabwe needs to be heard in free elections, in which they cast their votes done without ... fear," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
"We want to see elections that are properly free and fair. That's very difficult when you have got 3 to 4 million refugees outside the country."
Moyo said he feared many voters could fail to cast their ballots because of the redrawing of constituency boundaries and new voting procedures. He added: "Very few people know that these elections will be ward-based. That knowledge is hardly known by the electorate. For example my constituency Tsholotsho was divided into two and new wards were created.
People out there don't know where they will vote from."
Moyo has predicted a second round of voting in the presidential race, saying it would be impossible for either President Mugabe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai or former finance minister Simba Makoni, running as an independent, to get a majority 51 percent share of the votes on March 29 as required by the constitution.
He said: "There is going to be a run-off between Mugabe and Tsvangirai or between Mugabe and Makoni. But there won't be the same scenario between Makoni and Tsvangirai."