SINCE Independence in 1980 Zimbabwe’s national elections have to varying extents been characterised by intimidation and violence, with alarming statistics on those displaced, maimed or killed due to political brutality.
Report by Paidamoyo Muzulu
The majority of the violence victims have been supporters of the opposition parties to the country’s former ruling party, Zanu PF, which enjoys overt support from the security apparatus and controls instruments of coercion.
The MDC-T blamed Zanu PF for the murder of over 200 of its supporters in the run-up to the presidential poll run-off of June 2008, which MDC-T leader, current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from citing widespread violent attacks on his supporters.
The security sector is blamed for the bloody run-off campaign that saved President Robert Mugabe’s political career after suffering an historic first round defeat to Tsvangirai.
Although the three main political parties, Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC formed a tripartite coalition government in February 2009 after signing the Global Political Agreement (GPA) brokered by Sadc in 2008, the spectre of violence continues to hover over the country’s political landscape ahead of the imminent general elections.
However, last month’s referendum on the new draft constitution was peaceful, not least because it was not really a contest as the unity government partners jointly campaigned for the “Yes” vote as the draft was a product of their political horse-trading.
This has raised hopes among locals and the international community that the coming polls could be peaceful.
But the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s figures showing slightly over 3,3 million voted — a national record — in the plebiscite, has raised eyebrows amid suspicions Zanu PF is honing new tactics to steal the vote in elections expected later this year.
Political analysts say it is difficult to account for the high turnout since the referendum outcome was never in doubt.
They also pointed to the lack of queues at polling stations as evidence the figures were inflated.
These suspicions have renewed lingering questions over the credibility of Zec, criticised for releasing presidential election results after about a five-week delay in 2008.
Furthermore, the MDC-T alleges Zec is staffed by state security agents loyal to Mugabe although Tsvangirai recently gave the body a clean bill of health.
Analysts say Zanu PF is likely to adopt some new sophisticated means of coercing the electorate and manipulating the elections as opposed to overt violence since the party desperately wants legitimacy and acceptability after the polls.
MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti said last week at a Sapes Trust debate on the referendum results Zanu PF was changing its approach.
He said Zanu PF was now acting like a “sophisticated dictatorship” ready to deploy new and subtle ways to manipulate the will of the people in the elections rather than do so through its traditional heavy-handed tactics.
Harare-based political analyst Charles Mangongera said Zanu PF would not openly resort to brutal means to cow the electorate although political violence remains a handy tool and an option.
“I think Zanu PF is planning a harvest of fear from the 2008 terror campaign,” said Mangongera. “We are not going to witness overt intimidation and violence as it will use a more subtle approach underpinned by a credible threat of violence.”
Commentator Rashweat Mukundu said Zimbabwe would probably hold a fairly peaceful election although violence and intimidation would still remain a key part of Zanu PF’s strategy. “Zanu PF would want to appease Sadc by holding peaceful elections,” said Mukundu.
“However, communities are being regimented and the few who fall out of line will be dealt with either through violence or threats of violence. The rigging machinery will be far more sophisticated than crude as it had been in the past.”
There are also fears Zanu PF could manipulate the voter registration process, with rural dwellers in perceived party strongholds registering to vote easily compared to their urban counterparts. New urban voters have to provide proof of residence, which is difficult to get if one does not own a property.
The voters’ roll could also be used to manipulate the outcome.
Development specialist Maxwell Saungweme was sceptical about the chances of peaceful elections in Zimbabwe, saying the spectre of violence was still looming as Zanu PF is desperate to maintain its liberation power structure.
“Based on the few cases of violence during the just-ended referendum and the recent arrests of (lawyer) Beatrice Mtetwa and MDC-T staffers, just a day after a seemingly peaceful referendum, one wonders who is actually in control and whether the people behind those arrests have peaceful elections in mind,” he said.
“It’s likely that the forces behind those arrests don’t want to see peaceful elections and they will therefore try to shatter any hopes of free and fair elections.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Macdonald Lewanika said perpetrators of violence needed to be held to account if Zimbabwe was to end impunity and have any chance of peaceful elections.
“In order for us to have peaceful elections, those who act in a manner that is anathema to peace must pay the price,” Lewanika said. “As of now, there is no accountability or punishment of perpetrators of violence, unless they are from the MDC formations.”
Analysts say despite Mugabe’s calls for an end to political violence, the situation on the ground still remains potentially explosive, given that the perpetrators of violence and those who manipulate elections are still there.
In reality nothing has changed despite the semblance of stability following a recent relatively peaceful constitution referendum.