Zimbabwe Opposition Stages March to Demand Electoral Reforms

(Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change staged a peaceful protest in the capital, Harare, to demand a series of electoral reforms before the southern African nation votes on July 30 in the first ballot since Robert Mugabe stepped down as president.

Several thousand people, some of them carrying placards reading, “No to bogus polling stations” and “Free and fair elections,” joined a march Tuesday to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s offices where they presented a petition of 19 demands, including that the opposition be given the right to scrutinize the voters’ roll and enjoy equal access to the media and that military personnel be recalled from rural areas.

The staging of the vote was “dependent” on the demands being met, the opposition said in the petition, although it didn’t specify whether it will stage a boycott if they aren’t. “It is self-evident that the Zimbabwean authorities and the ZEC lack the desire, ability and political will of conducting a free, fair credible election,” it said.

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said the party won’t accept a repeat of previously rigged elections and will hold more protests nationwide until its demands are met.

“July 30 is not just an election date, July 30 is a survival day,” he told the cheering crowd. “We are prepared to do whatever is necessary, and the good thing is that we have the support of Zimbabwe, we have the support of everyone in Zimbabwe.”

Mugabe, who ruled the southern African nation for almost four decades, was forced to step down as president in November after the military temporarily took over the country, and was replaced by his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa. European Union monitors will observe the vote for the first time since 2002. Mnangagwa and Chamisa are seen as the front-runners in the presidential race.

Police gave permission for the protest and ordered the youth wing of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front to call off a planned counter-demonstration.

The Constitutional Court last month ruled against one of the opposition’s demands, to allow Zimbabweans living abroad to have the right to vote for the first time.

The election will take place as the nation’s economy, which has halved in size since 2000, faces a cash crisis that limits withdrawals from banks and the government’s ability to pay state workers on time.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.