SADC, the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN) and other international organisations would admit that elections in Zimbabwe are not for the faint-hearted, particularly from 2000 when the MDC emerged as a formidable opposition to Zanu PF since Independence in 1980.
The 2008 elections were disputed after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)took a month to announce the presidential poll results in which President Robert Mugabe lost to MDC-T leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai triggering a bloody run-off which resulted in the latter withdrawing, citing widespread violence and intimidation against his supporters.
Zimbabwe was plunged into a crippling political and economic crisis prompting Sadc to broker a power-sharing deal under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) between Zanu PF and the two MDC parties to stabilise the country.
The GPA and subsequent Sadc summits resolutions on Zimbabwe prescribed a raft of reforms to be implemented in the media and security sectors to create an atmosphere conducive to the holding of free, fair and credible elections.
However, Mugabe’s unilateral decision to push ahead with elections on July 31 without fully implementing reforms under the GPA is likely to give international bodies headaches and create a crisis of legitimacy, especially if Mugabe wins controversially.
It is interesting to see how Sadc will pronounce the elections when they do not meet even the regional body’s own requirements for democratic polls or the GPA.
What will the EU do since it had begun efforts to normalise relations with Zimbabwe through the “Friends of Zimbabwe” initiative before the March constitutional referendum? The EU had lifted targeted measures imposed on some Zanu PF officials and companies in preparation for full normalisation of relations.
A delegation of ministers, led by Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa, was even allowed to visit Europe for re-engagement talks. This followed an earlier meeting where EU countries met Zimbabwean government representatives in London on March 26.
While the EU waxed lyrical, the US remained unmoved refusing to lift sanctions, suggesting that it will not accept a flawed election.
The AU and UN also find themselves in a conundrum.
Sadc appears to hold the highest moral ground having baby-sitted Zimbabwe’s coalition government by appointing successive South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma as facilitators to the GPA negotiation process.
Although Sadc has endorsed previous elections — except Mugabe’s dubious re-election in 2008 — despite outcries from the MDC parties, this time around the regional bloc has remained steadfast in calling for reforms before elections.
Only last month, Sadc reacted to Mugabe’s unilateral July 31 election proclamation by requesting him to approach the Constitutional Court to seek an extension to allow more time to implement reforms.
Analysts say the regional body wants to bring finality to the long-running Zimbabwe election saga and is unlikely to accept a sham election.
Its resolute insistence on reforms has already been vindicated following the chaos that characterised the special vote on Sunday and Monday where absent or delayed ballot boxes and the late casting of votes at most polling centres, demonstrated how Zec was not ready for the polls.
Political analyst Godwin Phiri said Sadc’s insistence on reforms signalled that the regional bloc means business and is determined to ensure polls can still pass the credibility test despite the inherent flaws.
“They (Sadc) have invested so much time and effort on Zimbabwe and so they are determined to make the most of it,” said Phiri.
Sadc appears committed to salvaging the elections and ensure that they have some semblance of credibility as demonstrated by the bloc’s decision to send over 600 observers.
Of particular interest are reports that Botswana, a fierce Mugabe critic, contributed 200 of these observers.
Phiri, however, warned that a defiant Mugabe will test Sadc’s resolve by proceeding with the elections without full reforms.
A chaotic voter registration exercise was marred by claims that thousands were denied the right to register as voters.
The MDC-T has written to Sadc complaining about the restrictive voter registration exercise with party secretary-general Tendai Biti claiming that more than 300 000 people failed to register in Harare alone.
According to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), 750 000 eligible urban voters were not registered in urban wards deemed as MDC parties’ strongholds.
“If this issue is not addressed, it might seriously undermine the credibility of the whole electoral process,” Zesn warned.
In addition, Zimbabweans in the diaspora, the so-called “aliens” (mainly those born in Zimbabwe with foreign descent but failed to register as voters) and prisoners will not vote despite constitutional provisions granting them the right to suffrage.
Zec has blamed logistical challenges for this development.
Despite the glaring deficiencies, political commentator Blessing Vava still believes international organisations should not have any problem endorsing the polls as the prevailing conditions are just the same as those that characterised the constitutional referendum.
“Why should there be a problem now when Sadc, EU and Zimbabwe’s own political parties endorsed the referendum? The conditions are the same as those under which the referendum was held,” said Vava.
But the situation is more complex than Vava says and even the partisan state media failed to cover up the chaos of the special voting exercise.
They had to join other media houses in reporting that anti-riot police were called in to control uniformed forces who attempted to force their way into a polling station at Town House in Harare on Tuesday evening protesting delays in the distribution of ballot papers.
“If that does not discredit the polls, then what else will?” asked Vava.
The UN will probably join the Sadc-AU bandwagon in demanding no less than credible polls after Mugabe turned down its request to send in an assessment mission as a pre-condition for releasing poll funding that government had requested in February.
Clearly, the elections will be held without full reforms and the question is what will Sadc, the AU, EU, UN and the US do particularly if Mugabe wins?