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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
Will Zimbabwe’s watershed elections be free, fair and peaceful
Thomson Reuters Foundation
July 15, 2013
In less than three weeks, Zimbabweans
will go to the polls for the first time since a violent,
disputed vote in 2008 forced President Robert Mugabe to form
a coalition with his main rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
to extend his three-decade grip on power in the July 31 presidential
election, has called the battle against Tsvangirai and his Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) "the fight of our lives".
However, he has urged his Zanu-PF party to avoid any violence, saying
it was set to win cleanly.
on his third campaign to unseat Mugabe, has said nothing has been
done to ensure a fairer vote and that Zanu-PF was using bureaucratic
obstacles and tricks to try to hold on to power.
In 2008, hundreds
of Zimbabweans, mostly Tsvangirai supporters, were beaten and killed,
prompting an exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries.
Foundation spoke to three experts about the prospects for a peaceful
general election, whether it would be a watershed moment for Zimbabwe
and the major concerns in the run-up to the vote.
were Chofamba Sithole, a UK-based journalist and commentator, Knox
Chitiyo, associate fellow at Chatham House's Africa programme and
Jeffrey Smith, advocacy officer at the Robert F Kennedy Centre for
Justice and Human Rights.
What indications are there that the elections will pass off more
peacefully than in 2008?
President Mugabe has called for peace consistently over the past
several months, and this message has been drummed religiously into
the base by senior Zanu-PF figures as well. As the party usually
blamed for most of the electoral violence, it is significant that
Zanu-PF has stood down its most ardent and gung-ho supporters in
this way – there's a sense among them that the cover of impunity
and carte blanche previously available to them isn't quite available
this time round. However, this is not to suggest that more formal
instruments of violence such as war veterans and youth militia,
police and the military will not be deployed in strategic areas,
if not to unleash violence, then perhaps to brandish the threat
of it as a way of intimidating non-compliant constituencies.
The SADC (Southern African Development Community) and South Africa,
as well as the AU (African Union), have been very clear that they
don't want a repeat of the violence of 2008. I think that's been
a very important factor. The second thing is, of course, the very
short timescale towards the elections, which probably has, ironically
– for all the concerns about whether there'll be time to have
a good election – actually helped in terms of making it a
less violent process. People are tired of violence. They don't want
a repeat of 2008. People simply want a clear result one way or another.
They simply want a decisive winner.
The relative decrease in violence, as reported in major news outlets,
can be explained in part by the fact that President Mugabe and his
allies know they do not have to rely on overt violence this time
around; they merely need to harvest the fear of 2008–9, as
well as years past. President Mugabe does not want to embody or
represent a pariah state any longer; he and his party want to be
brought back into the international fold and attract increased foreign
investment. As such, there is a calculated attempt to construct
this democratic façade; only when you start to peel back
the layers of that façade do you begin to see serious concerns.
For instance, there have been a number of reports from civic activists,
particularly in rural areas, claiming that the police routinely
reference Gukurahundi (a 1980s military crackdown in Zimbabwe's
southern Matabeleleland and Midlands provinces), attempting to co-opt
voters or otherwise dissuade them from voting. Military leaders,
deployed as "historians" in rural areas, are also demanding
that citizens reveal their political preferences. Taken together,
this prevailing climate of fear and intimidation, combined with
impunity for past transgressions, has created a toxic environment
in Zimbabwe one that may not necessarily bode well for a genuinely
credible and peaceful election.
are the major concerns ahead of the election?
The voters' roll is the biggest concern in my view. It has remained
an inscrutable mystery to the MDC parties and there's no clarity
as to how many ineligible names still remain on it, with allegations
made that it continues to enfranchise up to a million dead voters.
In recent weeks, Morgan Tsvangirai has also complained about the
role of the Israeli firm Nikuv International, which was contracted
to work on the voters' roll. The firm's reputation from its involvement
in elections in other countries on the continent particularly Zambia
has not been altogether edifying. The public media also remains
biased in favour of Zanu-PF and has taken to broadcasting President
Mugabe's rallies live on TV and radio while denying the same to
his rivals. Policing also remains a concern, especially where police
deny the MDC parties permission to hold campaign rallies citing
lack of capacity. Legally, parties are merely required to notify
police rather than seek permission to hold rallies.
One of the key issues is has there been enough time to register
voters by July 31? The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is working
flat out in terms of that but I think it remains a concern as to
whether all the people who are eligible to vote will be registered
in time. One big concern is if we have another runoff, if it's a
very close poll and then we go into another runoff, that's when
there'd be a lot of anxiety because of course, people would have
memories of 2008.
There are several major concerns ahead of the election, including
1) a major lack of progress on reforms contained in the Global Political
Agreement, which was meant to lay the necessary groundwork for an
even political playing field; 2) increased intimidation, threats,
and in some cases, violence against civil society; and 3) violations
of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
To my mind, the suppression of civil society and the human rights
community represents a chronic problem in Zimbabwe that has critically
undermined the electoral environment. Particularly since August
of last year when election-related rhetoric began to heat up dozens
of civil society organisations have been targeted by the police,
punctuated by numerous office break-ins, arrests of key leadership
figures, and trumped-up criminal charges. Organisations involved
in voter registration, mobilisation, and education campaigns have
unfortunately experienced the brunt of this onslaught. These ongoing
incidents comprise a clear pattern of repression that should prompt
outside observers to question the willingness of leaders in Zimbabwe
to allow or otherwise ensure a free and fair election
What progress has there been in enacting the reforms outlined in
the global political agreement (GPA) that brought together Zanu-PF
The biggest reform yet has been the adoption of a new constitution,
and the adoption of amendments to the electoral law to conform with
it. It clarifies vote counting and tallying, potentially doing away
with such delays in announcing results as experienced after the
2008 elections before the presidential runoff was declared.
The main thing which was outlined in the GPA,
and which was achieved, was the new constitution. I think there
just wasn't the time for the other reforms (to be implemented).
It was always going to be very tricky to try and get the reforms
done because the parties were not really pulling together. There
were massive disagreements particularly between Zanu-PF and the
MDC on which reforms should be done and when. The major area for
agreement was the need for a new constitution but beyond that in
terms of other reforms – electoral reforms, security –
there have been big disagreements.
There has been very little progress in enacting reforms
outlined in the GPA, especially in regards to human rights and the
rule of law. A primary reason for this outcome has been a lack of
political will on the part of Zanu-PF to implement aspects of the
agreement that might limit its power. Most troubling is the fact
that Zanu-PF continues to command an unchecked monopoly of power
and influence over the military, police, and related security forces.
The media landscape also remains heavily biased, with Zanu-PF in
control over the two main daily newspapers and all national broadcast
media, which are subject to political interference and censorship.
Amendments to highly repressive laws – including the infamous
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA); the Public
Order and Security Act (POSA); the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act; and the Presidential
Powers (Temporary Measures) Act – have also stalled, with
little chance of reform before elections.
is civil society faring in the run-up to the vote?
Civil society remains active in the urban areas but it isn't quite
clear how free they are to penetrate the rural hinterland, where
Zanu-PF retains significant support. Civil society groups are mostly
seen as adjuncts of the MDC.
There has been some harassment of civil society activists. We've
seen for example, people like the lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa being arrested
and there's been some level of harassment of journalists but civil
society organisations and NGOs are registering to monitor the elections
as per the constitution. I don't think it's accurate to say there's
been a blanket repression of civil society. Overall, civil society
is very much a part of the elections. Civil society organisations
will be monitoring the elections, they're participating in the debates
around the elections ... they've not been excluded from the process.
By all accounts, domestic civil society remains strong and committed
to advancing democratic principles. Looking back over the course
of the past year, we have documented nearly two dozen instances
of civic leaders being arrested on spurious charges or having their
offices broken into by police, often on the pretense that they are
in possession of "subversive material" or conducting "illegal
voter education". These actions are technically undertaken
in accordance with domestic law, giving rise to a phenomenon that
I call 'persecution by prosecution', whereby partisan state authorities
arrest individuals in order to drain them of limited financial resources
and time, often holding them behind bars for weeks in horribly squalid
To what extent do Zimbabweans see the election as a watershed moment?
The elections are indeed a watershed moment because they herald
inevitable leadership transition. Even if Mugabe should emerge as
president once more, because of his age and failing health, Zanu-PF
will now have to confront its succession question soon thereafter.
Whether it's a watershed moment depends on who you talk to. All
the parties are saying this is going to be a transformational moment
for Zimbabwe – it's the end of the GNU (government of national
unity), it's a new era for Zimbabwe whereas I think people on the
ground are a little more cautious about it. They feel there will
be some change regardless of who wins, but it may be more of an
incremental rather than a transformational change.
I think Zimbabweans, by and large, yearn for increased freedoms,
including freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and
to have their basic human rights both protected and promoted by
their elected leaders. They want to be free from the shackles of
fear and potential violence. They want economic freedom, respect
for property rights, and the opportunity to put enough food on the
table for their children and loved ones. In fact, it is these bread
and butter issues that I think galvanise a vast majority of Zimbabweans,
regardless of political affiliation. Unfortunately, to date, very
few of these needs have been met, and I think a realisation of those
needs and basic human desires would certainly amount to a watershed
moment for them.
Tsvangirai recently formed a coalition with former finance minister
Simba Makoni and the small Zanu-Ndonga party. The leader of a splinter
MDC party, Welshman Ncube, has also formed a coalition with the
small opposition party Zapu. How do these developments alter projections
of the electoral result?
The formation of a coalition between Prof Welshman Ncube's
MDC and Zapu means that they have galvanised their position in the
Matebeleland region and may well eat into Tsvangirai's vote there.
It is impossible for Tsvangirai to secure an outright victory without
Matebeleland, which has rallied behind him almost unanimously since
What is in a sense more interesting is that the grand coalition
that had been mooted didn't happen. There had been talk of bringing
all the opposition parties together and that didn't happen. Rather
than seeing a grand pact, we've seen minor regional pacts. It likely
will have an effect – certainly on the parliamentary vote.
The council elections, the parliamentary elections are important
but at the end of the day what really matters is the presidential
election and it's really down to Mugabe versus Tsvangirai. If Mugabe
wins the presidential election, then it will not be an inclusive
coalition government, it will be a Zanu-PF government because certainly
they don't want yet another coalition, whereas if Tsvangirai wins
because of this election pact with Makoni and Ndonga, he would need
to form some kind of an inclusive government and he would also have
to talk with Zanu-PF because they're still very much embedded within
the structures of power. It's very much an all or nothing particularly
for Tsvangirai this time around because if he loses the presidential
election, people are not going to give him another chance I don't
think - that's it. It would also be difficult for the MDC ... The
government would be Zanu-PF and that would leave very little space
for the MDC and what would happen to the MDC. So really there's
all to play for.
Obviously, the lack of a cohesive coalition will strengthen
the hand of any ruling party, regardless of the country or political
context. This no doubt holds true for Zimbabwe and plays directly
into the hands of President Mugabe. There is countrywide discontent
with Zanu-PF, but to this point, the various opposition factions
have been unable or perhaps unwilling to identify or effectively
build upon their overlapping interests and objectives to create
a "grand coalition". It is difficult to accurately forecast
an ultimate victor, as recent polls suggest a tight race. I tend
to think Zimbabwe will be faced with another presidential runoff,
much like last time. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the
overall voter turnout, as Zimbabwe has been plagued by increasing
voter apathy in recent elections.
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