Zimbabwe: Prospects from a Flawed Election
20 Mar 2008
The international community needs to have contingency plans ready in anticipation of rigged elections in Zimbabwe on 29 March that could precipitate a potentially violent crisis.
Zimbabwe: Prospects from a Flawed Election,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines likely scenarios for Zimbabwe’s simultaneous presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. Even though President Robert Mugabe has two serious challengers, including for the first time one from within his own ruling party, he probably has the means to manipulate the process before, during and after balloting, sufficiently to keep his office, though possibly only after a violent run-off. If that happens, no government will emerge capable of ending the country’s long crisis.
“Zimbabweans desperately want change but have little faith these elections will produce it”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Even after the 29 March vote, a negotiated compromise will likely be essential to reverse a deteriorating political and economic situation but only the first step.”
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, which once offered the most realistic chance of resolving Zimbabwe’s eight-year crisis, has failed. Primary responsibility lies with Mugabe, who unilaterally called snap elections and ruled out passage before the polls of the new constitution. His ruling ZANU-PF party has subsequently been using all the extensive means at its disposal to maintain an unfair advantage in the campaign. The bitterly divided opposition must also share blame: it gained relevancy from the mediation but was unable to agree on an electoral strategy at a time of acute national crisis.
If the election leads to further confrontation, the African Union (AU) should be ready to promptly offer mediation for a power-sharing agreement to produce a transitional government with a reformist agenda. A settlement need not necessarily remove Mugabe. He might serve as a non-executive head of state during a transitional period in advance of fresh elections. The important point is for the region to be prepared to act quickly if the elections do not produce a legitimate government that can deal with a national crisis whose consequences are increasingly being felt beyond Zimbabwe’s borders. With South Africa and the SADC having lost some credibility, the AU needs to take the lead.
The wider international community must also be ready to provide concerted backing to AU-led mediation. The EU and U.S. have little appetite to re-engage with a ZANU-PF dominated government, but if that is the result of a genuinely negotiated agreement that aims at reconciliation and renewal, they should not hold back.
“If the region’s leaders were again to recognise an illegitimate government, Zimbabwe’s dramatic economic disintegration would continue, and the inevitable next round of the struggle over Mugabe’s succession could easily provoke bloodshed”, warns Andebrhan Giorgis, Crisis Group Senior Adviser.