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Pre-Election Detectors: ZANU PF’s attempt to re-claim political hegemony
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
April 15, 2013

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The classic question is why do political parties and governments manipulate elections. This paper offers a more nuanced investigation of why and under what circumstances do authoritarian regimes decide to adopt and drop certain political strategies of manipulating elections. In order to answer this question the article investigates the political strategies at the centre of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF)’s attempt to win the next harmonised polls and re-establish its hegemony.2 Other commentators reduce the Zanu PF electoral strategies to the use of physical violence against opposition supporters conceptualised as the ‘margin of terror’. Whilst I agree that state sponsored violence is endemic in Zimbabwe, I argue that Zanu PF is embarking on a more sophisticated and multi-pronged approach to cover its terror tactics in order to re-gain political legitimacy. The reign of terror unleashed by Zanu PF in the run-up to the June 27, 2008 ‘election’ undermined the party’s legitimacy in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU) and internationally. Hence, physical violence in 2013 will not be as blatant and as extreme as in the previous June 27, 2008 ‘election’. Zanu PF is aware that naked physical violence will not be accepted in SADC and yet at the same time a relatively free and fair election might undermine its electoral chances. Pitied between a rock and a hard place, what strategies can Zanu PF use in the next harmonised election? The party prefers a psychological warfare premised on manipulating the fear inculcated in communities over years among other strategies. These include partisan registration of voters, ideologically appealing to popular groups; state financed patronage, control of state media and targeted persecution (devoid of physical harm) against civil society leaders and opposition supporters. Whether these political strategies will work in favour of Zanu PF only the next election will tell.


Zimbabwe’s March 29 election and the June 27 ‘election’ held in 2008 reflect ‘a tale of two elections’ (Tendi and Alexander 2008) with a major effect on the tenor of national politics. In the pre-election period the environment was relatively peaceful, opposition supporters were allowed to campaign freely in party regalia, observers operated without much hindrance, the state media aired campaign messages for the opposition, few cases of violence were reported and on the polling day the results were posted outside the respective polling stations for all to see. Consequently, the 29th of March parliamentary election was won by the Movement for Democratic Change led by Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai. However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) headed by Justice Chiweshe, took six weeks to officially announce the winner amid speculation that Zanu PF was inflating the figures of

Mr Mugabe and deflating those of Mr Tsvangirai. When the results were finally announced Morgan Tsvangirai had 47.9% of the vote and Mugabe trailed by 43.2%. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Act a candidate requires 50% plus one vote to be President. This meant that Zimbabwe had to go for a run-off Presidential election. This also meant that Zanu PF had failed to claim victory through inflating the numbers beyond the 50%+one vote (the margin of error) without resorting to the old tactic of terror. As a result Zanu PF unleashed extreme terror characterised by abductions of opposition supporters, torture, arbitrarily arrests, the opposition was barred from campaigning and the state radio became blatantly partisan. About 200 opposition supporters were killed in the run-up to the election, 200,000 were displaced and many went missing. President Mugabe was clear that the ‘pen would not defeat the gun’. As a result of the escalating physical violence the MDC leader, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off on 22 June 2008. President Mugabe contested alone and was declared President on 29 June 2008 with 85% of the vote before he rushed off to the African Union summit in Egypt.

The underlying story is that even though President Mugabe was sworn in as President of Zimbabwe, he failed to win political legitimacy nationally but more importantly in the region and internationally. As Badza (2009) chronicles, the SADC election observer mission’s report concluded that the June 27 election did not reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The then SADC chairperson, the late President of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, had appealed to Zimbabwe to postpone the election in order to avert a ‘regional disaster’. The SADC Troika that included King Mswati, a long-time ally of President Mugabe had criticised the electoral environment and concluded that the environment would ‘undermine the credibility and legitimacy of its outcome’. President Jacob Zuma castigated the run-off as ‘no longer a solution’. On a continental level, the then Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr Ping, noted that state sponsored violence was of ‘grave concern to the African Union’. More extreme was Botswana that openly campaigned for Zimbabwe to be expelled from SADC and the AU. From my conversations with government officials from Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique Tanzania and South Africa in the past 5 months my proposition is that the views of the SADC leaders are not likely to change if Zimbabwe’s election becomes a replica of the June 27, 2008 election. President Mugabe seems aware of this view as he has argued before that the inclusive government was formed to end the violence and not to deal with substantive democratic reforms.

Because of international pressure, President Mugabe’s lack of political legitimacy and the ‘MDC dominated Parliament which would make it difficult for Mugabe to govern’ (discussions with Malawi government minister who attended SADC meetings in 2008) the regional body urged President Mugabe to form an inclusive government with the MDCs and appointed President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to supervise the process. After much political bickering the inclusive government was only formed on 13 February 2009. Robert Mugabe continued as President and Morgan Tsvangirai was appointed as Prime Minister whereas Arthur Mutambara of the smaller MDC faction was appointed the Deputy Prime Minister. The inclusive government was tasked to stabilise the economy and to institute democratic reforms that would ensure the holding of a free and fair election to avoid a regression into the authoritarian and repressive politics of June 27 2008. See Raftopolous (2012) for progress on the inclusive government. My point is that the inevitable end of this political interregnum is an election. One of the Principals elucidated:

All indications point to the fact that Zimbabwe will have an election in 2013. President Mugabe has been consistently calling for an election. Recently, at a meeting with civil society organisations, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai indicated that elections will be held in July 2013. President Mugabe’s birthday interview confirms Mr Tsvangirai’s views. He said, ‘…we will have elections before the UNWTO to be held in Zimbabwe in August 2013’. Professor Welshman Ncube the leader of the other MDC was pessimistic that elections will be held in July but said that there was ‘no way Zimbabwe can go beyond September 2013 without an election because that will create a constitutional crisis. Even SADC will not have power to make us override our constitution’ (pers.comm, January 2013). According to the constitution the current government expires on 29 June 2012, as it run concurrently with the term of office of the President. However, the holding of elections will depend on the availability of financial resources and political will. What political strategies will Zanu PF use in the next election? Let us first provide an analytical hedging based on the strategies Zanu PF has used in the past?

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