DEMOCRACY is often defined as a form of government in which people have a voice and influence in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives.
Report by Elias Mambo
It is mostly manifested through elections which enable people to choose their representatives, but if elections are held in hostile environments and conditions, then a country risks democratic stagnation or reversal.
However, democracy scholars say it is absolute and the holding of elections does not necessarily make a country automatically democratic as polls can be manipulated to ensure regime retention and continuity.
Instead, a state’s democratic credentials involve assessing many, if not all, aspects of governance and the political system.
In his classic definition, Robert Dahl states democracy requires not only free, fair and competitive elections, but also the freedoms that make them truly meaningful, such as freedom of organisation, expression, and alternative sources of information and institutions to ensure government policies depend on the votes and preferences of citizens.
Democracy, he says, is much complex and has many measures and nuances.
As highlighted by the recently launched Crisis Coalition Transition Barometer, democracy is not just about majority rule, but requires political freedoms so that there can be debate and independent decision-making.
Commonly recognised essential components of democracy include multi-party electoral competition, freedom of association, freedom of movement, independent media, and the rule of law, among others.
The Transition Barometer, which tracks the progress of Zimbabwe’s inclusive government and provides a researched analysis to give a better understanding of the transition, says if elections are held prematurely in Zimbabwe — that is within the next two months — the most probable outcome would be a prolonged transition.
Transition Barometer researcher Phillan Zamchiya says the uncertainty over the election dates and ambiguity on what happens after June 29 when the tenure of the president and parliament expire presents a scenario in which the executive would continue without the legislature and thus rule by decree.
“If elections are held before June 30, the coalition will endure, as Zanu PF will need the co-operation of the two opposition MDC factions to form a legitimate government,” Zamchiya said.
This would also further prolong Zimbabwe’s transition to a fully democratic country with a transparent and accountable system of governance, he said.
“It will be difficult to gain political legitimacy due to the fact that Sadc, other political parties, civil society and the independent media will keep tracking the transition and expose Zanu PF’s election manipulation strategies, subtle or overt,” said Zamchiya.
Zanu PF insists elections should be held without fail by June 29 when parliament’s tenure expires, while its unity government partners, MDC-T and MDC, civil society and Sadc say Global Political Agreement (GPA) reforms must be implemented first if the elections are to be credible.
In the Transition Barometer analysis, Zimbabwe scored lowly on almost all the six focus areas that have an impact on both the transitional process and the building and consolidation of democracy. These include, among other things, the rule of law, implementation of the GPA which gave birth to the coalition government, clearly defined election dates and the role being played by Sadc in monitoring Zimbabwe’s transition.
Zamchiya said although there have been some positive democratic gains, President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party are still in a position to manipulate state institutions and electoral systems in order to retain power.
“Zimbabwe is heading towards a prolonged transition because the incumbent (Mugabe) can overtly manipulate electoral processes, economic resources and state institutions and emerge as a winner if elections are to be held within the next two months,” he said.
He also said Mugabe would allow for grasshopper reforms (reforms favourable to him) in a prolonged transition and this would lead to routine elections with pre-determined results.
Mugabe and Zanu PF are under increasing pressure from the MDC parties over reforms and the election dates, but have the backing of security service chiefs who are now some of the richest people in Zimbabwe and have openly declared their political loyalty to him and his party.
While Zanu PF is engulfed in internal strife, primarily over Mugabe’s succession leaving its structures virtually collapsed in some areas, state institutions, particularly the military, continue to prop it up making the security forces the party’s pillar of strength.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said Transition Barometer was spot-on when it said Zimbabwe is headed for a prolonged transition if elections are held without critical reforms.
“The outcome of the next elections will be pre-determined because GPA reforms have been stalled by Zanu PF and Mugabe,” Ruhanya said. “There is chaos with regards to the voters’ roll, voter registration and hostile statements by military generals show they are unwilling to accept change.
“So it will be tough to have a democratic transition and smooth transfer of power in the event Mugabe loses the election.
“Furthermore, the conflation of voter registration and inspection with the process of aligning laws with the new constitution, there is potential continuation of concealed and selective implementation of that process to the advantage of Zanu PF.”
Zamchiya said: “This infrastructure of error has manifested itself through concealed and selective voter registration exercise and the unfettered access of, and use of Zanu PF to state institutions.”
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said reforms are needed particularly in the security sector because “military commanders are not only violating the constitution, but their own vision and core values which include professionalism and integrity”.
Analysts say given what is happening now before the elections, Zimbabwe is headed for botched polls and prolonged transition whose outcome remains uncertain.