Elections in Zimbabwe – Setting the stage for chaos and violence?

ImagePresident Mugabe

Zimbabwe will hold national elections on 31 July, putting an end to the Transitional Inclusive Government (TIG). In 2008, Mugabe lost the presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) but Zanu-PF’s violent and murderous acts forced Tsvangirai to give up. Instead, he became Prime Minister and formed a malfunctioning “unity government” with Mugabe in 2009. Several questions can be asked. Although very unlikely, should we expect the end of the Mugabe era? Will there be violence again? Do Zimbabweans even have faith in these elections?

It is very unlikely that authoritarian President Mugabe and his party will give up power, even if they loose. The party has long developed a series of strategies to remain in power. Setting an election date in one example of this. Since 2010 Zanu-PF, Mugabe’s party, has been announcing elections every few months, trying to find a date that would work in its favor. A few weeks ago, Mugabe issued a presidential decree confirming 31 July election, leading opposition parties such as the MDC to accuse the president of violating constitution. Despite reservations and complaints from the opposition as well as civil society groups, the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court overturned appeals to delay the elections. 

The current situation is well explained by Baba Jukwa, a disgruntled blogger and insider from Zanu-PF party, who spreads gossip about the party on his Facebook page. He explains the party’s rigging strategy in this way: “An early and rapid election will play in Zanu-PF’s favour in that it is easy to rig where preparations are done rapidly” and there is “no time to implement key electoral reforms, my party is in full control of the current system.” Baba Jukwa issued warnings of violence. For example, the Economist reported that Baba Jukwa predicted the death of Zanu-PF MP Edward Chindori-Chininga after he made revelations about the party’s involvement in embezzlement. He also described Jonathan Moyo, Zanu-PF’s strategist, as being “inspired by Joseph Stalin, Aldolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.” According to Baba Jukwa, Moyo strategy rests on nine tactics:

1) Early elections

2) Repressive laws such as Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA)

3) Intimidation of voters by the Zimbabwe National Army and other security services, who openly side with Mugabe

4) Stage managed defections

5) Repression of the media

6) Fouling opposition candidates

7) Arrest and detention of opposition supporters

8) Playing “divide and rule” on opposition parties to avoid a grand coalition

9) Vote buying using revenues from the country’s diamond mines.

These tactics would be nothing new – the party has long been using them. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch showed how the Zimbabwe National Army and other security services continue to interfere in political affairs, especially during elections. In 2008, the military and the police committed widespread violence against Mugabe’s perceived opponents and, according to the report, the army is again intimidating voters, civil society groups and human rights acticists, and abusing perceived supporters of the MDC. Tiseke Kasambala, the Africa advocacy director at HRW, describes the upcoming elections as “an important step in ending the country’s longstanding human rights crisis.” However, with only three weeks to go, the hasty elections have made it impossible to make these reforms on time.

There are also several reports of voter registration problems. For example, foreign nationals identified as “aliens” have been denied the right to register as voters, even though the new constitution guarantees this right. According to commentator Tawanda Mukurunge “the information blackout by the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) is a deliberate ploy meant to keep unsuspecting citizens in the dark. The possibility of a free and fair election will remain a pipe dream unless these issues are addressed.” Meanwhile, civil society group Youth Agenda described the processing of ‘aliens’ as “a direct violation of the rights of the people of Zimbabwe and a breach of the constitutional right to vote as stipulated in the new constitution.”

Image Image taken in 2008

So what it the hope for opposition parties and for Zimbabweans in general? Five opposition parties are apparently trying to form a coalition. The MDC-T, MDC, ZAPU, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) and ZANU Ndonga held secret talks and attempted to devise a strategy to work together in order to defeat Mugabe’s party. This grand coalition could truly pose a great challenge to Zanu-PF since it would combine votes and resources. However, creating and holding the coalition together may be difficult if the leaders of parties are unable to set their differences aside, especially between Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Welshman Ncube (MDC). There are already reports that the coalition has faltered.

What may work in the opposition’s favor are important fissures within Zanu-PF, including over succession and policies. Furthermore, Mugabe himself has lost support because his policies have failed to lead to concrete results. There were few people at the launch of Zanu-PF’s election manifesto on Friday, despite the party’s attempt to attract supporters. According to sources, Mugabe’s did not present a political program. The main information given was that the campaign would run under the theme: “Indigenize, empower, develop and create employment.” Instead of presenting a clear plan for the nation’s future, the dictator urged his supporters to prevent another unity government from being formed. Furthermore, although he told his followers to avoid violence, urging them to “kick our opponents with votes.” However some of his rhetoric also said otherwise: “You are our soldiers. You have a battle to fight. Go into the battle well-armed. It’s a fight for our lives. It’s a battle for survival (…) Go into the battle with the full knowledge that there is a political enemy. This is a do or die struggle.” This kind of double-language is worrying.

Mugabe and his party continue to fiercely hold on to power. Whether it will again lead to “disputed” elections and post-electoral violence is hard to say but based on Zanu-PF’s violent record and current rigging tactics it would be unsurprising. In 2008, 200 people were killed and thousands injured. In the end, Zimbabweans continue to suffer from Mugabe’s corrupt and despotic regime, as well as from the opposition’s inability to unite over common goals. Is another coalition government to be expected and will Mugabe accept this option despite his aversion to it? More worryingly, what will be the scope of intimidation and violence if the parties do not accept the results? Harassment of political and human rights activists, crackdown on civil society groups and the media, and suppression of the opposition, seek to maintain an unbalanced political arena. It is more than political strategy for Zanu-PF – it’s a routine meant to prevent a status-quo. It also a recipe the type of electoral violence we have seen in Zimbabwe past elections.

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