Zimbabwe’s military unexpectedly ousted President Robert Mugabe in late 2017, nearly four decades after he took power. Debilitating internal factionalism within the ruling Zanu-PF party over succession to Mugabe has culminated in the elevation of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the helm. He has promised to break with the past as he endeavours to navigate a much needed economic recovery. Prospects for promoting a new more inclusive political culture are less certain. Credible elections in 2018 could be a vital stepping stone toward a peaceful democratic transition, but they also pose a challenge to Zimbabwe’s weak institutions. Through research and analysis, Crisis Group sheds light on obstacles to a smooth, credible electoral process leading up to 2018. We help relevant actors nationally and internationally to buttress the likelihood of peaceful elections and democratic transition.
Zimbabwe’s disputed elections have reinforced political divisions as the Constitutional Court hears an opposition challenge of the results. The military crackdown on opposition protesters highlights the urgency of reform if the government is to preserve stability and, by extension, its re-engagement strategy with international donors.
Political divides deepened after Constitutional Court dismissed opposition’s challenge to results of 30 July presidential vote, confirming President Mnangagwa’s victory, and military crackdown on opposition protesters left six dead. Electoral commission 1 Aug announced results of parliamentary vote, with ruling ZANU-PF winning 144 seats (over two thirds) and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance winning 64, but postponed releasing presidential results. EU observers said delay undermined credibility of results. After MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa said he had won “the popular vote”, opposition supporters protested in capital Harare 1 Aug accusing ZANU-PF of rigging elections. Riot police gave way to soldiers who forcibly dispersed protesters with water cannon and live ammunition, six protesters killed. Police 2 Aug sealed off MDC Alliance headquarters before storming building and arresting sixteen people. Human rights organisations reported over 150 incidents of alleged abuses by security forces against opposition supporters, including illegal detention, assault, looting and rape. Electoral commission 3 Aug announced Mnangagwa winner of presidential poll with 2.46mn votes (50.8%) against Chamisa’s 2.15mn (44.3%), after MDC Alliance said it would reject result. Electoral commission later revised Mnangagwa’s score to 50.6%, about 31,000 votes over 50% threshold to avoid second round. Chamisa 3 Aug said he would challenge through legal process presidential result and parliamentary results in twenty constituencies. Police 8 Aug arrested opposition politician Tendai Biti at border with Zambia as he tried to seek asylum there; Zambian police deported him, ignoring Zambian high court interdiction. Biti charged next day with public violence and illegally announcing election results. EU, U.S., Canada and Switzerland in joint statement 7 Aug expressed concern with post-election violence and intimidation of opposition supporters. Chamisa 10 Aug filed legal challenge against Mnangagwa’s victory, accusing electoral commission of bias and fraud. Court 22 Aug dismissed challenge, ruled Chamisa would have to pay ZNU-PF legal costs and validated Mnangagwa’s victory. Mnangagwa 29 Aug said former South African President Kgalema Motlante would chair inquiry into events of 1 Aug.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the chance to embark on a much-needed process of economic and governance reform in Zimbabwe. The military’s role in the political transition casts a shadow on the road to credible elections, which remain a priority if his government is to earn national and international legitimacy.
Zimbabwe has not escaped its chronic crisis. Infighting over who will succeed the ailing 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe is stifling efforts to tackle insolvency, low rule of law, rampant unemployment and food insecurity. Zimbabwe needs international help to recover, but what it needs most is a leadership willing to act on much-needed reforms.
Zimbabwe’s growing instability is exacerbated by dire economic decline, endemic governance failures, and tensions over ruling party succession; without major political and economic reforms, the country could slide into being a failed state.
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.
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.
A bold approach to the sanctions issue is necessary to refocus efforts on the actions needed to break the political stalemate in Zimbabwe before elections are held that otherwise threaten to be as violent and undemocratic as the 2008 round.
The ball is in Mnangagwa’s court. His legitimacy will now have to come from statesmanship and transparency, which means publicly addressing his relationship with the security forces as well as concerns about how the votes were counted
The elections are an unprecedented opportunity for Zimbabweans to choose who they believe can deliver economic recovery after decades of violent, predatory and authoritarian rule by former President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
Most [of Zimbabwe's presidential candidates] have minimal support bases and the election is likely to simply reinforce this reality. Twenty-three candidates is an unfeasible number of aspirants. For some candidates it is about principle and symbolism; for others it may well be little more than egotistical vanity project or something bordering in self-delusion.
[Zimbabwe's] MDC [opposition party] needs enigmatic leadership that can inspire, lead and build a party that faces huge organisational and leadership challenges. No single leader can achieve this alone.
[Zimbabwe's veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's] passing is of terrible sadness but represents enormous challenge to the new cadre of leadership in the opposition.
It seems highly unlikely that [former President] Mugabe would risk jeopardizing the handsome golden parachute he has been given by teaming up with Joice Mujuru.
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.
Delayed elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the stalled transition risks provoking a major crisis, are one of three critical African polls: the DRC crisis, the recent vote in Kenya and Zimbabwe’s election next year all have important implications for democracy and stability on the continent.
President Robert Mugabe plunged Zimbabwe into political crisis by firing his long-time ally and enforcer Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 6 November 2017. In this Q&A prior to an apparent army coup in Mnangagwa's favour on 14-15 November, Crisis Group’s Senior Southern Africa Consultant Piers Pigou gives the background to the struggle to succeed the 93-year-old president.
The ruling ZANU-PF is exploiting the many weaknesses of Zimbabwe’s electoral system to outpace the country’s divided opposition. Yet without a real change of policy, the country seems doomed to steeper decline.
Originally published in Zimbabwe Independent