As the Global Political Agreement (GPA) staggers to an end, continued violations of the agreement, reform deficits, limited institutional credibility and the rejection of a UN election needs assessment mission underscore the continued absence of conditions for peaceful and credible elections despite the new constitution adopted in March 2013.
President Robert Mugabe has been forced to step back from a June vote, but his party still pushes for an expedited process with little time to implement outstanding reforms and new constitutional provisions.
The pervasive fear of violence and actual intimidation contradicts rhetorical utterances of commitment to peace. A reasonably free and fair election is still possible, but so too are deferred or disputed polls, or even a military intervention.
The international community seems ready to back Sadc, which must work with GPA partners to define and enforce “red lines” for a credible vote.
Zanu-PF is likely to resist further reforms. Sadc places particular emphasis on democracy- supporting institutions, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) faces significant challenges. Limited government funding threatens its capacity building, public outreach and ability to ensure the integrity of the voters’ roll.
The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC)(Reggie Austin) resigned, citing the body’s lack of independence and government support, and was replaced by (Jacob Mudenda)with close ties to Zanu-PF.
The GPA’s Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) plays an important role in responding to political conflict, but has insufficient support and addresses symptoms, not causes, of violence and intimidation.
Certain pro-Zanu-PF security officials may seek to influence the polls. Some have demanded greater political representation; they played a pivotal role in the 2008 violence that secured Mugabe’s victory, for which none were held accountable.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police has demonstrated some professionalism, but its leaders openly support Zanu-PF and frequently harass Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and civil society, which the MDC-has been powerless to prevent.
The GPA provides no basis for credible investigations of the police (or other security elements), who refuse to answer to the co-ministers of Home Affairs or Jomic and expose parliament as largely toothless. Political parties face internal challenges. Within Zanu-PF, “hardliner” and “reformist” camps are fighting over who will succeed 89-year-old Mugabe.
MDC-T is struggling with a reported drop in popularity, infighting and limited capacity to mobilise its supporters.
The international community assesses Zimbabwe’s progress positively, demonstrating its support for Sadc’s facilitation.
The constitutional referendum enabled the European Union to lift restrictive measures against most of the individuals and entities (excluding Mugabe, his wife Grace, a small group of security officials and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation).
Zimbabwe and the UK subsequently held their first bilateral talks in over a decade, and a “Friends of Zimbabwe” meeting that offered economic support and the lifting of sanctions against two Zimbabwean banks by the United States shows Western commitment to supporting Zimbabwe’s reform.
Sadc’s priority is “containment” even more than reforms to maintain stability. This objective remains vague, but the organisation must consolidate its promotion of reforms in compliance with its election guidelines. Reforms require monitoring, but Jomic’s capacity for this is limited and Zanu-PF’s resistance to extending its mandate to focus on elections has frustrated Sadc.
The regional bloc should establish an office in Harare that complements Jomic but also allows it to independently liaise with the government.
If the impasse on sectorial reforms persists, the vote may be rescheduled. Political leaders recognise that to proceed when the risk of large-scale violence is high and when parties and Sadc disagree over what constitutes an acceptable threshold for credible elections would be dangerous.
Faced with divisions that threaten their performance in the polls, Zanu-PF and MDC-T may back postponement.
Deferral, if accompanied by firm Sadc pressure, presents opportunities to promote reforms, on condition that strict timelines are defined, monitoring is enhanced significantly, political parties understand the risks of failure, and institutional weaknesses and the potential for interference by the security sector are reversed.
Otherwise, the “winner-take-all” attitude means the election is likely to be strongly disputed.
Some in Zanu-PF feel threatened by the erosion of economic opportunities that would come with losing power, while others fear prosecution for human rights violations. For the MDC-T, an electoral defeat would signify a loss of influence. For Zanu-PF, disputing the results could mean increased influence by bringing the country to a standstill.
A conclusive election requires that all parties and their supporters accept results. There are indications that Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai have agreed to do so and accommodate whoever loses.
However, such a deal does not automatically translate into acceptance by their parties. Tsvangirai has agreed to be the GPA principals’ point man on election preparations, which could make it more difficult for him or his party to cry foul or withdraw because of irregularities.
The waters are already muddied by the MDC-T’s acquiescence in the referendum, which proceeded according to the interests of the GPA signatories, disregarding the concerns of other political groups and civil society.
A military takeover is unlikely, not least because of uncertainty about the political allegiance of the rank and file, probable regional censure and international isolation.
However, allegations of the army’s bias and complicity in human rights violations raise concerns it may seek to influence the election outcome. It may also present itself as a stabilising force if inter- and intra-party relations deteriorate further.
This year is decisive. Elections in a context of acute divisions are unlikely to provide stability. There is growing sense that the best way forward is further power sharing, though this is only helpful if objectives are established and widely accepted.
To note that Zimbabwe is less violent now than in 2008 means little before the campaign – it is the competition for power that generates violence.
That the elections are likely to be tense and see some violence and intimidation is clear; what is not yet clear is the nature of the violence, its extent and the response it will generate.
To define and build consensus on the election roadmap
Facilitate further discussions among the GPA parties to address the lack of consensus and clarity on reforms following the constitutional referendum.
To enhance oversight on the political process toward elections
Convene a dedicated heads of state summit on Zimbabwe that emphasises roadmap compliance with the Sadc “Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections” and that:
(a) Establishes a liaison office in Harare to monitor and evaluate electoral preparations and facilitate prompt response when necessary;
(b)Defines “red lines”, strict benchmarks and clear measures for non-compliance by the GPA parties to the agreed roadmap; and
(c)Establishes clear monitoring and observation roles in the election.
Utilise its security structures and processes to facilitate high-level engagement between senior military, police and intelligence officials from the region and Zimbabwe to persuade the security sector not to interfere in the political process.
Require an electoral code of conduct for police, military and intelligence services that can be endorsed by Sadc heads of state.
Ensure the country does not rush into elections before there is clarity and consensus on, and practical implementation of, necessary reforms.
To the GPA principals:
Take a more hands-on role to expedite and ensure implementation of agreements and GPA commitments, as well as the resolution of outstanding disagreements, in particular:
a) conduct the outstanding annual review of GPA implementation as stipulated in Article 23 relating to the periodic review mechanism;
b) ensure Sadc officials deployed to Jomic during the constitutional referendum remain in place until after the elections; and
c)resolve disagreements preventing the deployment of additional Jomic provincial monitors.
Direct Jomic to independently investigate allegations regarding state security forces’ partisanship and political interference.
Extend Jomic’s mandate to cover the election period (including before and after the vote) and make provision for holding political party leadership accountable to the GPA and the election roadmap.
Encourage political tolerance and coexistence across party lines through frequent joint press conferences, calling for non-violence, inter-party dialogue and responding to particular concerns and incidents.
Allow the UN needs assessment mission to return to Zimbabwe to conduct an assessment that can help address the lack of confidence in electoral processes and systems.
Resource fully and operationalise the ZHRC so it can discharge its mandate before, during and after elections.
Appoint staff to Zec with a view to addressing concerns about alleged political bias set out in the draft election roadmap.
To address the politicisation of the security services and state institutions.
Hold regular National Security Council meetings as the elections draw near to mitigate disagreement and develop consensus.
Ensure security officials making partisan public statements are censured or sanctioned.
To build a sustainable democratic transition in Zimbabwe
Operationalise additional teams recruited in 2012 to complement existing teams working with the Operation Committee.
Increase outreach, cooperation and collaboration with civil society and faith-based organisations.
To preserve and consolidate political coexistence.
This is a summary of the International Crisis Group’s latest report on Zimbabwe