Zimbabwe’s political future hangs in the balance

Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Ch...

Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BY GWINYAYI DZINESA, JULY 11 2013, 07:43

ZIMBABWE’s Constitutional Court last Thursday unanimously rejected a request to delay the general election set for July 31, despite a raft of appeals from the likes of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to delay the polls.

The appeals had been lodged following a June 15 Southern African Development Community (Sadc) extraordinary summit resolution “on the need for the government of Zimbabwe to engage the Constitutional Court to seek more time beyond July 31 deadline for holding the harmonised elections”.

This was meant to give Zimbabwe room to lay the ground for a credible vote.

Significantly, Sadc and the African Union (AU), guarantors of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement, both acknowledged the May 31 Constitutional Court ruling on the election date, and are bound to respect the latest decision upholding the July 31 deadline.

The judgment in effect moves the struggle for power between Zimbabwe’s three coalition government parties, Zanu (PF) led by Mr Mugabe, and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the MDC-T led by Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC-N led by Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube, into a new phase. Zimbabweans will head to the polls on July 31 in the hope of ending the shaky coalition government that both Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai have conceded to be dysfunctional. The two leaders, putting aside any notion that they were already in election mode, officially launched their parties’ campaigns at the past weekend.

There are concerns the democratic structures provided for in the new constitution, such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Media Commission, have not been strengthened and may not be used correctly to ensure the credibility of the electoral process. The ZEC coped relatively well with the logistical challenges of conducting the referendum less than a month after the starting gun was fired. However, the elections will be considerably more complex than the referendum, which offered only two choices — yes or no — and a single ballot.

The cash-strapped Zimbabwe government has to ensure the belated availability of resources for the ZEC to prepare effectively and run the forthcoming elections.

Yet the Zimbabwe government’s official request to the Sadc and the United Nations for assistance in mobilising resources for the election is fraught with uncertainty.

Were Sadc to fund the poll, this would place the regional body in unfamiliar territory.

Further, Sadc may have to field questions about potentially financing an election that might not be in full accordance with the principles and guidelines governing democratic elections in the region. In any case, Zimbabwe has been broke for over a decade, but elections have still been held.

The government may mobilise local resources to finance the poll, just as it did with the preceding referendum. Zimbabwe’s political leaders have called repeatedly for national reconciliation and peaceful political activities, to prevent the violence and intimidation that have undermined democratic electoral processes in the past. However, there has been no agreement by the parties on a code of conduct to guide the behaviour of the security sector in the electoral process so that it conducts itself in a non-partisan manner, and enforces the political leaders’ calls.

With the security sector’s partisan involvement in the country’s politics, and threats by the security chiefs to veto the forthcoming election, there is a danger that security agents may abuse the rule of law during the poll instead of securing the vote. Meanwhile, the fact that many security personnel want to contest as Zanu (PF) MPs indicates the sector may be considering elected office as a way to protect its privileges rather than military force, which would be opposed regionally and internationally.

Significantly, the lack of regular and credible opinion polls makes establishing a political bellwether and predicting Zimbabwe’s election outcome a difficult task.

According to the Freedom House survey of 2012 — Change and “New” Politics in Zimbabwe — of the 53% of respondents who declared their political party preference, 20% said they would support the MDC-T (down from 38% in 2010) and 31% Zanu (PF) (up from 17% in 2010). The two parties are the major electoral contenders and would have derived lessons from the study, making the election campaign period critical. There are three probable trajectories that the expectedly closely contested poll can take.

First, Zanu (PF) could win, most likely by a small margin. The political old guard would continue to rule and the interests of the securocrats would be protected. The elected Zanu (PF) government would implement some reforms to shed its pariah status on the international stage.

The nature of the reforms would depend on the intraparty succession battles pitching hardliners against moderates. The international community would be expected to respect the outcome, remove all remaining targeted restrictive measures against Zimbabwe and assist the country on its path to socioeconomic recovery.

Second, the MDC-T-Mavambo-Khusile-Dawn (MKD)-Zanu-Ndonga coalition for change, which has endorsed Mr Tsvangirai for president, could win.

According to the 2008 presidential election results, only released more than a month after the poll, none of the four presidential contestants had acquired a large enough share of the vote — 50% plus one – to be declared the outright winner. Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T won 47.9%, Zanu (PF)’s Mr Mugabe 43.2%, Simba Makoni, who stood as an independent, won 8.3%, and a fourth candidate, Langton Towungana, 0.6%, which necessitated the run-off poll.

The united front among political leaders could, if Dr Makoni’s supporters are ready to follow his call to back Mr Tsvangirai, prevent the fragmentation of the vote and an associated inconclusive election outcome. Should the coalition win, Sadc and the AU may have to guarantee a peaceful transfer of political power amid possible reluctance by Zanu (PF) hardliners to accept the election results.

The security service chiefs and other Zanu (PF) officials are averse to an MDC-T-MKD-Zanu-Ndonga victory, which they fear would both efface the role of the liberation struggle in the birth of the country and immerse them in economic, legal and political uncertainty. Such a scenario could also raise concern among other former liberation movements that have assumed power in Southern Africa.

Third, if neither Zanu (PF) nor the MDC-T-MKD-Zanu-Ndonga coalition secures the votes necessary for a clear victory, the country may see a repeat of the 2008 process that could lead to the formation of yet another unwieldy coalition government. The role of the MDC-N and Zimbabwe African People’s Union coalition, if the two parties remain outside a mooted grand coalition, would be significant in determining the final outcome. Some analysts believe part of the votes won by Dr Makoni in 2008 necessitating the run-off poll were due to the fact the two parties did not field presidential candidates.

In this case there may be new power-sharing deals and a new Sadc mediation process — a scenario that sees Zimbabwe making no political progress at all.

• Dr Dzinesa is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

Published by Business Day

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