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Elections and reform in Zimbabwe
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
February 05, 2005

At a forum sponsored by the Wilson Center's AFRICA PROGRAM and CONFLICT PREVENTION PROJECT, Zimbabwean political activist Lovemore Madhuku, founder and president of the National Constitutional Assembly, discussed the prospects for democratic reform in Zimbabwe, and offered sharp criticism of the Mugabe government.

Madhuku's presentation revolved around two themes: identifying the choices and problems facing Zimbabweans on the eve of the parliamentary elections slated for March 2005, and outlining what action opposition parties must take, over the longer term, in order to achieve meaningful political reform.

Madhuku highlighted the contradictions inherent in the Zanu-PF's claims, on the one hand, that Zimbabwe is a democratic state, while insisting that legitimate authority in Zimbabwe derives from participation in the liberation struggle rather than from democratic practices and principles. Madhuku noted that Mugabe had used the language and symbols of the liberation struggle to effectively put opposition voices on the defensive. He had succeeded in painting the opposition as the handmaidens of their previous colonial masters and hostile to the goal of meaningful land reform. Democratic expression had come to be labelled as somehow unpatriotic.

Madhuku was skeptical that the upcoming elections would be free and fair, especially in light of the recent enactment of new laws constraining the freedom of the media, curbing the right to organize and hold meetings, and preventing human rights organizations from receiving funds from outside the country. The preconditions for free and fair elections, as outlined by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional organization that observed previous Zimbabwe elections, are absent. He argued that, "no one should expect any miracles" in the March elections. ZANU-PF would win, he indicated, but its victory would derive not from a popular base of support but from the effective use of tools of intimidation and suppression.

In order for true democracy to take hold in Zimbabwe, he said, it would require a sustained and coherent program of public protest and mobilization by a revitalized, united internal opposition. He stated his belief that international sanctions on Zimbabwe would be counter-productive, in that Mugabe would continue to turn these to his advantage by charging that sanctions were evidence that opposition voices were puppets of the West. True democratic constitutional reform, he said, would depend not on external sanctions but on Zimbabweans fighting for democracy in their own country. However, diplomatic pressure on the regime should continue, and the international community should not weaken in its criticism of undemocratic practices. In addition, the international community should continue to engage and assist civil society organizations that, in the final analysis, represented a critical force for democratic transformation.

Mudhuku also criticized African nations who have been reluctant to criticize practices that are clearly not conducive to the holding of free and fair elections, or have provided diplomatic support to the Mugabe government. How, he asked, can observers from these nations certify that the conditions for free and fair elections exist when they see that Zimbabweans have none of the freedoms that the observers enjoy in their home countries? He concluded by noting that, as pressure mounted within the ZANU-PF to have Mugabe transition out of power, there was a unique opportunity that the opposition needed to seize.

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