Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

26 July 2013

Zimbabwe Elections - a Recipe for Disaster?

interview

Zimbabweans go to the polls next week to vote in what many fear will be a flawed election run by an ill-prepared electoral commission. In this Q&A, Gwinyayi Dzinesa, Senior Researcher with the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division at the Institute for Security Studies, talks about the run-up to the election, the role of the international community and what would happen if President Robert Mugabe (89) would be re-elected.

Dzinesa says the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) are trying to make sure the elections can be declared free and fair, in order to provide them with an 'exit strategy' from the Zimbabwe political crisis. He also says SADC needs to have a plan in place to deal with security chiefs and Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) hardliners who are likely to refuse a possible victory for the opposition.

Is Zimbabwe ready to hold elections next week?

I doubt it, judging from the shambolic manner in which the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) handled the special voting of security forces. It doesn't have adequate resources, neither is there sufficient time for the ZEC to put in place viable structures. People applauded the way it handled the constitutional referendum, but that was a simple, one-ballot vote and voters did not have to register prior to the vote. The country's coalition government also fell short in laying the ground for a credible vote in areas such as reform of the country's security services and the state media, and cleaning of the voters' roll.

Has there been a manipulation of the voters' roll?

I don't have substantive evidence of this, but the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties allege that ZANU-PF, in collusion with an Israeli company, was trying to manipulate the voters' roll to make sure that certain eligible voters are not counted and that some are deregistered. In addition to this, there was also suppression of voter registration and education in some opposition strongholds.

Why did President Mugabe refuse to postpone the elections?

This is the main concern. This past weekend the SADC Troika in its official communiqué expressed its apprehension with Zimbabwe's readiness to conduct credible elections. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, who is the chair of the Troika, expressed his concern that SADC's advice (to postpone elections) was not taken on board by the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court. It is clear that President Mugabe and ZANU-PF are eager to push through elections because they are confident of romping home to victory. From day one President Mugabe has made it clear that he was forced into the Government of National Unity and ZANU-PF now wants to regain the political hegemony. Even if we don't know the outcome of these elections, we do get a sense of déjà vu, of a pre-determined outcome in favour of ZANU-PF, given that ZANU-PF seems to be pulling the strings in terms of the electoral process.

Does this eagerness to go ahead with the elections next week have anything to do with Mugabe's age?

There have been persistent reports that ZANU-PF wants to proceed with elections while President Mugabe can still participate in a campaign given his advanced age and reports about his ill health. We do see him, incredibly, leading his party during this campaign, including holding one 90-minute speech, so one cannot rule this out. President Mugabe also wants to win a relatively peaceful election to rehabilitate his image; that's why he has been calling for political reconciliation and peaceful political activities.

In 2008 the police and military were accused of orchestrating a bloody crackdown against the opposition. Is it different this time?

The run-up to elections has been relatively peaceful compared to 2008. There have been isolated incidents where security forces have targeted certain human rights and political activists and incidents where police have called off certain MDC rallies on the basis that they don't have sufficient personnel to ensure the security of these meetings. That is why the two MDC formations were pushing for the agreement of a code of conduct that the security forces could adhere to in this political process so that they conduct themselves in a non-partisan matter, and enforce political leaders' calls to prevent the violence and intimidation that has undermined democratic electoral processes in the past.

So while we are not going to see a bloodbath as in 2008, there is still the concern that if Zimbabwe was to go into a run-off we might have the security sector abusing its authority to influence the electoral process instead of securing the vote. Security sector chiefs are on record that they will not accept anything other than an election victory for President Mugabe. That means that SADC and the AU, as guarantors of Zimbabwe's joint political agreement and the electoral process, will have to come up with strategies on how to best handle a possible MDC victory.

Are you talking of a possible military coup should the MDC win the election? Are these forces so powerful as to threaten an MDC government?

Security chiefs and some ZANU-PF hardliners fear that an MDC victory would efface the role of the liberation struggle in the birth of Zimbabwe and that they might be immersed in political and economic uncertainty. So there is a realistic chance that they might voice their disapproval of the election results. But I really don't see them staging a coup.

Would SADC and AU observers have the courage to say these elections are flawed if they see on the ground that it is not free and fair?

I don't think SADC and the AU are ready to openly declare that the elections have violated regional and continental guidelines governing democratic elections, regardless of the fact that the ZEC and the country are not ready to conduct the polls. We can get a sense of this from the manner in which the SADC Troika toned down its communiqué and from the AU statements over the weekend which said that the environment in Zimbabwe is conducive for free and fair elections. I think between now and 31 July we will see both bodies trying to portray Zimbabwe as being ready. It remains to be seen whether behind the scenes they are going to talk to the Zimbabwean political parties and the electoral institutions to ensure that there are credible polls.

We now also have certain segments of the international community, including the European Union (EU) and United States (US), saying they are taking their cue from SADC on whether the elections are free and fair. So given that the run-up has been relatively peaceful, despite some problems here and there, we will probably see SADC and the AU giving the elections a clean bill of health in order to set Zimbabwe for engagement with the broader international community. Clearly the two bodies also need an exit strategy from Zimbabwe and if they declare the elections to be credible that is what they will get.

The EU and the US seem to be taking a back seat. Some say they're having a rethink because China is cashing in on all the good diamond deals in Zimbabwe?

One can't discount the 'China factor'. One also certainly doesn't see the same hostility like that between President Mugabe and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The scrapping of some sanctions against Zimbabwe has been seen as a sign of the EU warming up towards President Mugabe, but one has to consider that the so-called targeted sanctions were largely symbolic and they actually became an unnecessary distraction. That is why even SADC had to lobby for the lifting of those sanctions.

If Mugabe is re-elected and decides to retire, who will succeed him?

This is the critical question that I call WHAM: What happens after Mugabe? When endorsing Zimbabwe's new compromise constitution, the three coalition governing parties agreed to a clause that in the event that the winning candidate of these elections decides to step down, we are not going to get new elections, but the party could anoint his or her successor. ZANU-PF seemingly has a clear leadership structure, which provides for the first vice-president, in this case Joice Mujuru, to take over if President Mugabe decides to retire after winning the elections.

But one also has to keep in mind that there are various powerful factions within ZANU-PF, including one reportedly led by the current defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. President Mugabe has been talking about preparing for his retirement someday, but recently stated he won't be going into an election in order to retire. Some actually say he is not sincere about handing over power. Instead, he is playing the various factions against one another to his own advantage to boost his case to hang on to the top job.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS consultant

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