Zimbabwe: Election Scenarios [Video]
Zimbabwe: Election Scenarios [Video]
Report / Africa 4 minutes

Zimbabwe: Election Scenarios

The pervasive fear of violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections contradicts political leaders’ rhetorical commitments to peace, and raises concerns that the country may not be ready to go to the polls.

Executive Summary

As the Global Political Agreement (GPA) staggers to an end, continued violations of the agreement, reform deficits, limited institutional credibility and the rejection of a UN election needs assessment mission underscore the continued absence of conditions for peaceful and credible elections, despite the new constitution adopted in March 2013. President Robert Mugabe has been forced to step back from a June vote, but his party still pushes for an expedited process with little time to implement outstanding reforms and new constitutional provisions. The pervasive fear of violence and actual intimidation contradicts rhetorical commitments to peace. A reasonably free vote is still possible, but so too are deferred or disputed polls, or even a military intervention. The international community seems ready to back the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which must work with GPA partners to define and enforce “red lines” for a credible vote.

Related Content

The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is likely to resist further reforms. SADC places particular emphasis on democracy supporting institutions, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) faces significant challenges. Limited government funding threatens its capacity building, public outreach and ability to ensure the integrity of the voters’ roll. The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) resigned, citing the body’s lack of independence and government support, and was replaced by another commissioner with close ties to ZANU-PF. The GPA’s Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) plays an important role in responding to political conflict, but has insufficient support and addresses symptoms, not causes, of violence and intimidation.

Certain pro-ZANU-PF security officials may seek to influence the polls. Some have demanded greater political representation; they played a pivotal role in the 2008 violence that secured Mugabe’s victory, for which none were held accountable. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has demonstrated some professionalism, but its leaders openly support ZANU-PF and frequently harass Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and civil society, which the MDC-Tsvangirai has been powerless to prevent. The GPA provides no basis for credible investigations of the police (or other security elements), which refuse to answer to the co-ministers of home affairs or JOMIC and expose parliament as largely toothless. Political parties face internal challenges. Within ZANU-PF, “hardliner” and “reformist” camps are fighting over who will succeed 89-year-old Mugabe. MDC-T is struggling with a reported drop in popularity, infighting and limited capacity to mobilise its supporters.

The international community assesses Zimbabwe’s progress positively, demonstrating its support for SADC’s facilitation. The constitutional referendum enabled the European Union (EU) to lift restrictive measures against most of the individuals and entities (excluding Mugabe, his wife Grace, a small group of security officials and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation). Zimbabwe and the UK subsequently held their first bilateral talks in over a decade, and a “Friends of Zimbabwe” meeting that offered economic support and the lifting of sanctions against two Zimbabwean banks by the U.S. shows Western commitment to supporting Zimbabwe’s reform.

SADC’s priority is “containment” even more than reforms to maintain stability. This objective remains vague, but the organisation must consolidate its promotion of reforms in compliance with its election guidelines. Reforms require monitoring, but JOMIC’s capacity for this is limited and ZANU-PF’s resistance to extending its mandate to focus on elections has frustrated SADC. The regional bloc should establish an office in Harare that complements JOMIC but allows it to independently liaise with the government.

If the impasse on election reforms persists, the vote may be rescheduled. Political leaders recognise that to proceed when the risk of large-scale violence is high and when parties and SADC disagree over what constitutes an acceptable threshold for credible elections would be dangerous. Faced with divisions that threaten their performance in the polls, ZANU-PF and MDC-T may back postponement.

Deferral, if accompanied by firm SADC pressure, presents opportunities to promote reforms, on condition that strict timelines are defined, monitoring is enhanced significantly, political parties understand the risks of failure, and institutional weaknesses and the potential for interference by the security sector are reversed. Otherwise, the “winner-take-all” attitude means the election is likely to be hotly disputed. Some in ZANU-PF feel threatened by the erosion of economic opportunities that would come with losing power, while others fear prosecution for human rights violations. For the MDC-T, an electoral defeat would signify a loss of influence. For ZANU-PF, disputing the results could mean increased influence by bringing the country to a standstill.

A conclusive election requires that all parties and their supporters accept results. There are indications that Mugabe and Tsvangirai have agreed to do so and accommodate whoever loses. However, such a deal does not automatically translate into acceptance by their parties. Tsvangirai has agreed to be the GPA principals’ point man on election preparations, which could make it more difficult for him or his party to cry foul or withdraw because of irregularities. The waters are already muddied by the MDC-T’s acquiescence in the referendum, which proceeded according to the interests of the GPA signatories, disregarding the concerns of other political groups and of civil society.

A military takeover is unlikely, not least because of uncertainty about the political allegiance of the rank and file, probable regional censure and international isolation. However, allegations of the army’s bias and complicity in human rights violations raise concerns it may seek to influence the election outcome. It may also present itself as a stabilising force if inter- and intra-party relations deteriorate further.

2013 is a decisive year. Elections in a context of acute divisions are unlikely to provide stability. There is growing sense that the best way forward is further power sharing, though this is only helpful if objectives are established and widely accepted. To note that Zimbabwe is less violent now than in 2008 means little before the campaign – it is the competition for power that generates violence. That the elections are likely to be tense and see some violence and intimidation is clear; what is not yet clear is the nature of the violence, its extent and the response it will generate.

Johannesburg/Brussels, 6 May 2013 

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.