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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 104
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
    March 13, 2013

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    Beyond the referendum: Zimbabwe needs democracy without adjectives

    Zimbabwe faces a referendum on 16 March 2013. Of importance is that this seems to indicate a defined pathway towards a possible election in 2013. It is however important to realise that there are still some key reforms demanded by civil society which are still outstanding. Adopting a new constitution does not automatically translate to addressing these key reforms. In fact the adoption of a new constitution sets another dimension of challenges; where a legislative framework has to be put in place and then implemented in order for the political environment to transform and therefore be conducive for a credible election. I discuss some of the key issues that still need to be addressed or considered in order to ensure that critical underlying reform areas are exposed; for possible redress before the eventual poll.

    The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has since missed its 3 January 2013 deadline to commence a mobile nationwide voter registration process. However, it has been noted that voter registration has been taking place in some urban centres without much publicity and information being provided to would-be voters. Political parties, especially ZANU-PF has taken advantage of this ‘concealed’ voter registration process to marshal its supporters to register. There are also reported incidents of persons from the mushrooming housing cooperatives (mainly around urban and peri-urban areas) who are being forced to register through ZANU-PF community leaders. Despite these activities, the lack of funding from treasury has delayed an open, nation-wide and transparent voter registration process from being undertaken in earnest. Government has however approached the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for electoral funding assistance and it is hoped that such funding will be provided in time to effect pre-election processes. However should the UNDP and other development partners provide such funding, it is hoped that they will follow through such provisions with insistence on early election observation by both local and regional mechanisms and bodies. Delayed voter registration will have adverse effects on democratisation as some potential voters may be excluded from participating in the polls while clandestine registration processes may aid possibilities for election rigging.

    Although the political parties have been commended for reaching agreement/consensus in the constitution process, it is however important to note that this has potential to further exclude civil society and the citizenry from active participation in political processes. President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai have agreed on pre and post-election processes and outputs. Although this will provide some political stability it may also be a bad precedence for democracy in Zimbabwe. Mugabe and Tsvangirai seem to have adopted an “exclusionary” approach to political processes in the country. They have bestowed upon themselves the powers to determine the political trajectory of the country without due consultation of civil society or the broader citizenry. Consensus in the constitution process; though progressive on one extent; also stands to promote the preeminence of political parties’ pacts as a way of defeating popular democratic input of the people of the country. The consensus in the constitution process may also force the political parties in the GPA to rush towards elections even before addressing pre-election reforms. A rushed election and the exclusive political supremacy attained by the GPA parties all tend to work against the democratisation trajectory that civil society has aspired to promote.

    The GPA provides for an annual periodic review of the agreement and relations within it. No such review has been undertaken since the signing of the agreement. The GPA further instructs that at the completion of the constitution process an overall review of the GPA must take place. The intention of this clause being to ensure that there is constant realignment of the agreement to the broader transitional framework. It is assumed that any democratic process always includes the broad spectrum of stakeholders for any evaluation of agreements and tenants that govern a nation-state. Failure by the GPA parties to institute periodic reviews have therefore led to the denial of citizens’ democratic right to participate in such evaluation as well as to access information on the performance of the transitional governing mechanism imposed upon them through political party negotiations.

    The GPA is also instructive on the need for economic restoration and growth. Despite the initial gains in the productive sector realised just after the inception of the GPA; a steady decline has been realised thereafter. Mining and agricultural sectors seem to be growing in output but manufacturing continues to be depressed. Capacity utilisation has fallen from 57.2% to around 44.2% in 2012 compared to the previous year. The finance ministry has indicated a couple of issues that have negatively affected economic growth, these being: poor rainfall patterns; policy inconsistencies and uncertainties; lack of capacity sources; indiscipline in the finance sector; and general global economic performance. Political patronage continues to play a huge role in the economy with people aligned to ZANU-PF being the greatest beneficiaries. The diamond revenues continue to be contested and this has raised suspicion of both side-marketing as well as “looting” by politically connected individuals. The depressed economic recovery prospects as well as political patronage continue to stifle the citizen’s democratic right to resource income. Social services continue to underperform thereby depriving citizens of basic social support. Some politicians have used patronage as a way to “buy” political support thereby alienating opportunities for citizenry free expression and participation in political processes.

    State organs continue to be manipulated for political gain; against the GPA’s emphasis on the need for them to be non-partisan. The minister of defence recently endorsed that military personnel can participate in political processes and even join political parties. This tends to deride the democratic practice of the political neutrality of state institutions. Military deployments have continued in many rural areas across the country with suspicion of being intended for intimidation ahead of the upcoming election. The South Africans have however warned their Zimbabwean counterparts on the need to maintain political neutrality. It is hoped that such intervention will translate to the region’s intolerance of what the Zimbabwean security sector has been at for some time now.

    The GPA is also clear on the need to address security of persons and the prevention of violence. In the last couple of months, President Mugabe has been preaching peace and the need for violence free elections. However, as much as Mugabe has been on record declaring such good intentions; the behaviour of state institutions and some of his party stalwarts point towards some disturbing irony. Jabulani Sibanda has now moved from Masvingo and is terrorising villagers in Manicaland with threats of violence, should they vote ZANU-PF. He has been inflaming hate speech at the same time that President Mugabe has been proclaiming peace. The police have raided and arrested pro-democracy activists at: ZimRights (including the chairperson of Crisis Coalition – Okay Machisa); National Youth Development Trust (NYDT) and of late at the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP). They have raided Radio Dialogue, ZESN and have now barred these organisations from observing the referendum. In Mutare the US ambassador (Bruce Wharton) was ambushed by ZANU-PF supporters and no known arrests have been made, further urging the culture of impunity that has been sustained in Zimbabwe for long.

    We conclude that Zimbabwe is heading toward a Flawed Transition, characterised by positive reforms but with the incumbent still determined to manipulate state institutions and electoral processes to gain an unfair advantage that allows it to retain state power. However, at this juncture the incumbent might be trying to gain political legitimacy through grand concessions such as on the constitution and election dates without ceding much on democratising state institutions which gives room for manipulation of the whole process. However, due to the fact that SADC, civil society and the media have kept on trekking the transition and exposing the anomalies it appears difficult for the incumbent to opt for a derailed transition. The incumbent would need the cooperation of protagonists which is an indicator toward a prolonged transition. Our preference is a democratic transition and we hope this early observation will lead to the intensification of advocacy activities that leverage the transition before the next election.

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