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Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand
Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Briefing 95 / Africa

Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand

A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely as Zimbabwe holds elections on 31 July. conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist.

I. Overview

A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely, as Zimbabwe holds inadequately prepared presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist. Confidence in the process and institutions is low. The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced. The electoral commission is underfunded and lacked time to prepare. Concerns about rigging are pervasive, strongly disputed results highly likely. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) face severe credibility tests. They must avoid a narrow technical approach. If the vote is deeply flawed, they should declare it illegitimate and press for a re-run after several months of careful preparation or, if that is not possible, facilitate negotiation of a compromise acceptable to the major parties; and strong diplomacy will be needed to forestall extensive violence if the presidential contest moves to a run-off in conditions like 2008, or, if President Robert Mugabe loses at any stage, to ensure a smooth transition.

89 years old and 33 years at the helm, President Mugabe seeks to ensure his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) regains full control of government before embarking on a fraught succession process. Out-manoeuvring both the two rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and SADC, ZANU-PF hardliners, supported by the president, secured a Constitutional Court ruling that confirmed the premature election date, shutting down in the process any prospects of necessary reform, around which there had appeared to be growing convergence between the MDCs and SADC.

The regional body, as well as the AU, might have pressed harder for a postponement; however, in the end, they felt they had little option but to accept the sovereign decision of the newly constituted court. MDC formations favoured a later date but could only cry foul and reluctantly agree to participate, since they know a boycott would be counter-productive and that to remain relevant they must demonstrate they retain popular support.

With the campaign in full swing, ZANU-PF has a strong resource advantage. The MDCs have struggled to raise money but are relatively well organised. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T believes it can win the presidency but fears the electoral commission is being undermined from within and cannot deliver a free, fair, transparent and credible process.

Many expect a Mugabe victory, because “ZANU doesn’t lose elections”, and even if outvoted, as in the first round in 2008, its hardliners would not give up power. Its strategy is to get its supporters to the voting stations and keep the opposition away. Preventing manipulation of the voters roll and tabulation process are critical challenges, as in past polls, though both will potentially have greater scrutiny. The parliamentary vote hinges on 34 swing constituencies in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces, where ZANU-PF seeks to recoup 2008 losses.

Repeated calls from all parties to avert a repeat of the 2008 violence have tempered intimidation tactics, but as campaigning has intensified, incidents have increased, raising fears for what may happen, especially if the presidential contest again goes to a run-off. If the MDCs feel cheated, they are dependent on dispute resolution mechanisms that are untested or have a history of partisanship.

Much resembles 2008, including an atmosphere of intolerance and restricted access, state media bias and lack of confidence in institutions. There are some significant differences: more voter access to information, especially through the internet, social media, mobile phones and satellite news. ZANU-PF no longer has an increasingly frustrated region’s unquestioning loyalty. SADC publicly acknowledges need for reforms, but expectations it would or could ensure a genuine vote are severely compromised, raising questions about its post-31 July role.

Much of the international community is expected to take its cue from the AU and, especially, SADC, but there are concerns the latter may repeat its 2011 performance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), when it accepted an election replete with violations of its own guidelines. Mugabe’s threat in the 5 July speech that launched his campaign to leave SADC, “if it makes silly decisions”, and hardliner posturing that the organisation and its most powerful member, South Africa, want regime change, highlight ZANU-PF’s continued reliance on brinkmanship.

Though both are aware Zimbabwe is not ready for elections, SADC and the AU have deployed observers, after weakly urging postponement, but thus far not to the swing constituencies or to many rural areas, though the major threat to security and proper tabulation of results comes from the very security forces legally bound to protect the elections. Especially if the presidential contest goes to a run-off, as in 2008, they should seek to include well-trained SADC police and military (whether active duty or retired) in their observer delegations specifically to monitor the conduct of the Zimbabwe military and police.

Pre-election statements by SADC and the AU suggest an atmosphere of calm, but if they are to safeguard the region from a new crisis and help Zimbabwe move toward an adjustment of political power that fairly and efficiently reflects the genuine strengths of the two main camps, they need to be prepared to react promptly and strongly to an unfair vote, an escalation of violence or results rejected by bitterly divided camps.

Johannesburg/Brussels, 29 July 2013

Commentary / Africa

Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?

A new presidential administration in Zimbabwe offers an opportunity for much-needed democratic and economic reform after years of stagnation. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group proposes four key areas on which the EU and its member states should focus its support: the security sector, elections, the economy and national reconciliation.

This commentary on the oppurtunity for reform in Zimbabwe is part of our annual early-warning report Watch List 2018.

Amid a rise in authoritarian tendencies across parts of the continent, Robert Mugabe’s resignation and the November 2017 appointment of his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as president make Zimbabwe a potential exception, carrying fresh prospects for reform and economic recovery. Mnangagwa and his administration have set a different tone, promising to clean up government, reach across political, ethnic and racial lines, strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy and reform its moribund economy. Re-engaging with Western partners and financial institutions is an integral component of his strategy. Questions remain, however, as to whether Mnangagwa’s administration represents a genuine change or simply a reconfiguration of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), now dominated by security sector interests and factions aligned to the new president. International actors will have an important role in encouraging the reforms that will determine whether the country can recover economically and steer a more open and democratic course.

African and non-African governments alike agree that Zimbabwe’s continued isolation would be counterproductive. Following the lead of the AU and Southern African Development Community (SADC), actors including Western governments and China – most of which were happy to see the back of Mugabe – stopped short of calling the “military-assisted transition” a coup d’état, thus ensuring they could maintain diplomatic relations with and provide assistance to the government. Most also agree that the new government should be given an opportunity to demonstrate it is serious about its commitments. But while encouragement and incentives are important, Zimbabwe’s partners, including the EU, should calibrate support to maintain pressure on the government to enact both political and economic reforms, particularly given ZANU-PF’s long track record of backtracking on its promises.

So far, Mnangagwa has set an encouraging tone, focusing on the need to resuscitate the economy and open the political system. But doubts remain. Questions surround in particular the government’s willingness to address structural economic issues through fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability. They also surround its commitment to a genuinely inclusive political system; in response, the opposition and civil society – although weak and fragmented – have united in calling for a level electoral playing field, enhanced participation, and strengthened institutional checks and balances.

A calibrated framework for EU engagement in Zimbabwe

Although relations have long been strained, the EU resumed direct development cooperation with Harare in November 2014. Since then, with member states, it has engaged in limited senior-level political dialogue. The EU set out a framework for engagement in the National Indicative Program for Zimbabwe 2014-2020, focusing on three sectors: health, agriculture-based economic development, and governance as well as institution-building.

While this framework remains relevant, Mugabe’s ouster provides the EU an opportunity to adjust its approach and offer Zimbabwe the promise of a deeper relationship should certain conditions be met (a promise which is explicit in the 22 January 2018 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on Zimbabwe). This would require determining levels of support based on realistic deliverables and deadlines, based partly on timelines set by the new president and government themselves (such as in Mnangagwa’s December presentation to ZANU-PF’s extraordinary Congress, his State of the Nation address and the government’s commitments to deliverables within the first 100 days in office). Specifically, the EU could link its support to reforms in four key areas:

  • Security sector, including initiatives to professionalise the police forces and provide for civilian supervision, improve parliamentary oversight of the defence sector and repeal legislation inconsistent with the 2013 constitution, such as the Public Order and Security Act (which curtails rights such as freedom of assembly) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (which allows the state to severely control the work of the media and limit free speech).
     
  • Elections, including guaranteeing greater independence for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and credible voter rolls for Zimbabweans at home and abroad. The EU also should follow up on the president’s recent offer to allow EU observers to monitor the 2018 elections.
     
  • Economic sector, including organisation of a broad dialogue on the government’s economic reform strategy to be led by an independent committee, including representatives from the opposition, civil society, the churches and important commercial sectors.
     
  • National reconciliation, notably by bolstering the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and extending its mandate so as to form a truly independent body able to deal with past government abuses.

In parallel, the EU should step up support for institutions such as the Auditor General, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission while continuing to engage civil society organisations, and support their efforts to track government reforms, particularly those related to security, governance, fiscal accountability and anti-corruption.