What’s democracy got to do with it?

FOR most Zimbabweans awaiting the overdue presidential election results, one word encapsulates their present predicament: Zvakadhakwa.


It literally means that everything and everyone is in a state of intoxication. It implies that one cannot make sense of things; that nothing is moving and if it is, it is the motion of the staggering, drunken individual — directionless, senseless and confused.
For this is what it is. The whole country is in a daze. It has been for a few years. Stoned, sloshed, high, drunk and incapable. 
When you look at it you might think there is democracy. For when they queued to vote on March 29, it was the sixth occasion in eight years since the Constitutional Referendum in 2000. But then you look more closely and you see that it is no more than a veil of democracy.
This election in particular has been unusual. More than anything it has what lies beneath the veil.
It is unusual because almost two weeks after the key elections, Zimbabweans have been waiting for the result of the presidential poll. In past elections, the dispute has been over the substance of the result, not over its release.
And most unusually, the ruling party, the organisation that for so long has been in control of the electoral process, is behaving in a manner generally associated with the opposition. Except that because it is the ruling party, it has been able to abuse its authority over the arms of the state by withholding the result.
Even the view that Mugabe and Zanu PF have concerns about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s counting process does not stand scrutiny. Zimbabweans know that the MDC had similar concerns about the electoral process in previous elections, particularly in the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections. But that did not stop the electoral body from announcing the results and declaring Mugabe and Zanu PF as the winners. 
Mugabe insisted that any negotiations with or challenges by Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC could only be conducted if they recognised his presidency.
What then has changed on this occasion, so that the ZEC should withhold results simply because Zanu PF has objections? Surely, if the results favoured Mugabe and Zanu PF, the ZEC would have announced the results and the MDC would have been directed through the constitutional route, as has happened before, to make their challenges. Why can’t Zanu PF make its objections using the legal channels to which they have so often directed the opposition in the past?
You do not have to look far for the answer. It is because the power that Zanu PF is now relying upon is the kind of power that is not subject to an election: power emanating from the security structure. It is because Zimbabwe is now effectively a country that is ruled by the security establishment.
For too long Zimbabweans have laboured under the impression that there is some semblance of democracy in the country and that the legitimate mechanism for leadership change is through the electoral process. They have embraced it regardless of the acknowledged limitations. If ever there was evidence that the electoral process in Zimbabwe is no more than a part of an elaborate charade of democracy, this is it.
The same thinking has crippled the international community’s view of Zimbabwe, the most culpable being the African leaders who deal with Zimbabwe as if it were a normal democracy. What greater evidence should there be before they acknowledge that Zimbabwe is effectively operating as a military state, where the will of the people is slowly but surely being subverted or at the very least postponed unnecessarily?
The registered voters who voted in the recent elections have a legitimate expectation to know the result of their vote. By withholding the results, without any reasonable explanation, the ZEC’s conduct is inconsistent with the doctrine of legitimate expectations which applies to all public authorities. The doctrine of legitimate expectations expands the boundaries of the concept of fairness and in coming to a decision to or not to announce the results, the ZEC owes a duty to act fairly to all parties and individuals that participated in the elections.
The Sadc leaders will now need to peer through and even lift the veil of democracy and legitimacy that the ruling party has for so long used to cover its acts and omissions. For as long as they deal with Zimbabwe on the basis that it operates on the same platform, using similar democratic institutions, they will continue to dilly-dally and perpetuate what is in fact a military-style regime.
Perhaps they are waiting for a formal declaration of a military takeover before they can acknowledge the sad reality. There is, here, a de facto military regime in charge of the country, masquerading as a de jure constitutional government. In fact, during this impasse, constitutional power is vested solely in the president, but plainly, those in charge are the security establishment. Without the security structure, Zanu PF would sink.
Pop legend, Tina Turner gave the world one of the best songs of all time when she sang, “What’s love Got To Do With It?” It is a song that asks hard questions of the nature of love. Zimbabweans may be tempted to ask in relation to their circumstances, “What’s Democracy Got To Do With It?”
In that great song, Tina Turner asks, “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Perhaps Zimbabweans, too, may be asking at this point in time, “Who needs an election when an election can be broken?”
It will not be surprising if Zimbabweans show disinterest in the much-discussed “run-off” election or indeed in any future elections. Certainly not with precedents like the one the ZEC is setting. For there can be no guarantee that any future election will not suffer a similar fate. For President Mbeki and his Sadc colleagues, it is high time they pierce the veil of democracy and see the regime in charge of Zimbabwe for what it really is. If they have the sense and emotion that we all expect of them, they might even be moved to ask, “What’s Democracy Got To Do With It?” and echo the millions of Zimbabweans crying out for Noah’s Ark.
The MDC has taken action in the High Court to compel the ZEC to release the result. It is reported that the ZEC lawyer George Chikumbirike stated before the judge that, “It would be dangerous in my view to give an order because it might not be complied with …
because of outside exigencies which the party (ZEC) will be unable to control.” Chikumbirike did not specify the nature of the ‘outside exigencies’ beyond the ZEC’s control, leaving the matter to speculation.
But, surely, the ZEC is a constitutional body that is supposed to be independent of external control, however large and overbearing. That it concedes before the High Court that it is unable to execute its mandate because of some unnamed forces is testimony to its lack of independence, a circumstance that takes away any of its significantly diminished credibility. How President Mbeki and the Sadc leaders can persuade everyone to wait patiently for the result under these circumstances is hard to understand.
lAlex Magaisa is based at The University of Kent Law School and can be contacted at wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk or a.t.magaisa@kent.ac.uk

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