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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Legitimacy is on the line as elections near
    Bryan M Sims, Mail and Guardian (SA)
    July 26, 2013

    Next week’s Zimbabwean election is more than a high stakes winner take- all competition between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

    President Robert Mugabe’s unilateral decision to hold harmonised elections poses a serious challenge to both the credibility of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) five-year mediation and its lead facilitator, South Africa.

    This election will end the power sharing arrangement that ultimately brought stability to Zimbabwe, reversing a devastating economic decline and re-opening some, albeit not enough, democratic space.

    But the current pre-electoral period has proved that old habits die hard, as Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party are embroiled in a “do or die struggle” to regain a monopoly on power.

    As we observed in 2008, today’s intimidation and violence, as well as other undemocratic behaviour, has been tactically employed by Zanu-PF loyalists against supporters of the opposition. Rural areas, where Zanu-PF has maintained highly intact and functional party structures and which are difficult for most observers and media to reach, have suffered the most.

    Moreover, two recent surveys sponsored by Freedom House and Afrobarometer demonstrated worrying trends for Tsvangirai’s MDC-T, depicting a drop in support. This stands to reason because Mugabe surely would not have called an election if Zanu-PF was not confident of a victory.

    What remains to be seen is whether or not the leadership and supporters of the MDC factions led by Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube - many of whom have truly suffered in their attempts to express their democratic rights - will accept the outcome in the event of a Zanu-PF victory. Or rather, we must all ask ourselves, can an election in Zimbabwe be considered free and fair only if Mugabe is defeated?

    SADC’s failure to apply leverage and ensure the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) or the election road map before the election will certainly lead to any outcome being contested, as well as to a crisis of legitimacy.

    The state of today’s electoral environment blatantly defies SADC’s own principles and guidelines governing democratic elections. The justice system continues to be used as an extension of Zanu-PF to intimidate its critics. The most recent arrests, of MDC-T candidate Arnold Tsunga, Okay Machisa of ZimRights and human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa only draw attention to Zanu-PF’s insincerity about holding a free and fair poll.

    There have not been adequate media reforms. The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe deferred or rejected most applications for commercial radio licences, the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation remains deeply biased in favour of Zanu-PF and most journalists operate in a climate of fear.

    Throughout the tenure of the unity government, the security sector has expanded its influence within the economy, state institutions and Zanu-PF’s core decision-making bodies, including the Politburo and central committees. Media reports have turned a spotlight on the involvement of high-ranking security sector officials in the electoral process.

    Retired brigadiers general in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and colonels in the army have subsumed dubious roles that seek to bolster Zanu-PF in each of the 10 provinces. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), despite being under the stewardship of Justice Rita Makarau, remains under-budgeted, poorly capacitated and vulnerable to state interference.

    The recent special day for voting by police officers and members of the army painted an ominous picture of what can be expected next week. Nearly half the members of the uniformed services were disenfranchised after failing to cast their votes due to monumental bungling by the ZEC, which could not deliver ballots on time.

    Most worryingly, a report just released by the Research and Advocacy Unit, a Zimbabwe-based think-tank, found egregious problems with the voters’ roll. Among them are the fact that nearly two million potential voters younger than 30 are unregistered - approximately 29% of the total adult population. The report also found that roughly one million people believed to be dead remain on the roll, while in 63 constituencies more registered voters than actual inhabitants were counted in the most recent official census.

    Friction within Zanu-PF could also lead to violence. The official position is that Mugabe is the party’s leader and was always its only legitimate presidential candidate. However, insecurity over the lack of a chosen successor has fuelled deep divisions within Zanu-PF. Many of these internal battles manifested in the public space during the fierce competition and violence exhibited during the most recent District Co-ordinating Committee elections, in 2012, as well as during the most recent primary elections.

    Moreover, uncertainty about the security sector’s prominence in the country’s political and economic space threaten to take Zimbabwe back to the brink of disaster should key leaders within the security sector feel that their shady accumulation of wealth or personal security are at risk in the event of an MDC victory.

    SADC has staked its reputation and its credibility on Zimbabwe. Its failure to demand the full implementation of the GPA, choosing instead to embark on a strategy of deterrence intended to avert the type of widespread violence seen in 2008 and ensure that elections are merely credible (in other words, less free and less fair), as well as its inability to force Harare to hold elections in August, is confounding.

    A SADC communiqué released last week after a special summit in Pretoria, which noted some “problems” during special voting by the police and army, failed to acknowledge mounting concerns voiced within the region and the international community. Its anaemic message should have set out to deter those who seek to spoil the poll.

    SADC’s inability, or unwillingness, to punish bad behaviour will encourage other spoilers to try to maximise their own positions and interests over the greater good. We are already witnessing this type of behaviour in Madagascar.

    It is critical for SADC member states to apply pressure on those political leaders who choose their own aberrant path over SADC’s own prescriptive formula. SADC must sanction those who fail to heed ample warnings if the regional body is truly to succeed in developing African solutions for African problems. The real test for SADC and South Africa will be seen in the event of a presidential run-off. With political tensions reaching a crescendo and with each party’s determination to capture power, the possibility of a repeat of 2008 seems almost inevitable. If violence does erupt once again, the progress that has been made will be overshadowed and the legitimacy of the GPA’s efforts will be squandered.

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