WHEN President-elect Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party contested last week’s general elections, their aim was to secure outright victory and boost their political legitimacy.
Mugabe used the MDC as a political fig leaf by agreeing to form a coalition government in a move that softened his increasing international isolation after a bloody June 2008 presidential poll run-off in which he was the sole candidate after the then opposition leader, outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew saying his supporters had become targets of brutal state-sponsored violence.
Although Mugabe won the victory he sought and Zanu PF is set to get a two-thirds parliamentary majority, he has failed to win the stamp of legitimacy he desperately needs to secure his legacy going into the sunset of his long political career spanning over 50 years.
Mugabe abandoned violence and intimidation in the run-up to the polls and carefully picked election observers, barring those who have criticised him, in an attempt to win and revamp his battered image.
But Sadc and the African Union (AU) gave the election outcome a qualified endorsement while the European Union (EU), United States (US), Britain and Australia have criticised the electoral process as “seriously flawed” and declared that its outcome cannot have legitimacy deriving from the will of the people.
Presenting its preliminary report on the general elections last Friday, Sadc refused to declare the polls credible and fair.
“Don’t try to put words into my mouth,” protested Sadc Observer Mission head and Tanzanian Foreign minister Bernard Membe when asked by a ZBC reporter to confirm if the elections were credible.
Membe explained that while the observers acknowledged that Zimbabwe should be “congratulated for holding a free and peaceful harmonised elections”, the issue of credibility was more complex and could only be decided after more thorough examination of the entire process which would be addressed in their final report.
Neighbouring Botswana broke ranks by rejecting Sadc’s qualified endorsement and called for a complete audit of the polls citing serious irregularities.
Foreign Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani said Botswana was concerned that the vote had not measured up to Sadc Principles Governing Democratic Elections.
“Various incidents and circumstances were revealed that call into question whether the entire electoral process, and thus its final result, can be recognised as having been fair, transparent and credible,” Skelemani said.
The AU also refrained from fully endorsing the polls and voiced its disapproval of the high incidents of voters turned away, late publication of the final list of polling stations and the high numbers of assisted voters, among other things.
The AU also expressed concern over the voters’ roll, which was availed only two days before elections “rather late for meaningful inspection and verification by voters, parties and candidates”.
It also voiced “grave concerns” over the shambolic voters’ roll, which is central to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
Its observers stopped short of calling the Registrar-General (RG) a liar when it noted that “despite assertions by the RG that hard copies of the voters’ roll were availed to all political parties, observers have found no evidence hard copies were generally available to all who required them and who by law should have them”.
They highlighted serious concerns at the omission of some names from the voters’ register saying this must not be allowed as it casts doubt on the possible outcomes of elections.
US Secretary of State John Kerry commended Zimbabweans for rejecting violence, but added: “Make no mistake, in light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the US does not believe that the results announced today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also expressed “grave concerns” about the conduct of the vote, while Australian Foreign minister Bob Carr called for a re-run of the poll because of doubts about the integrity of the electoral roll and voting procedures despite the elections being preceded largely without violence.
The EU raised concerns about alleged irregularities and reports of incomplete participation as well as the identified weaknesses in the electoral process and a lack of transparency.
EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc would continue to follow developments and work closely with its international partners in the weeks to come, without elaborating further.
The EU had been making moves to normalise relations with Zimbabwe in anticipation of credible elections.
It had even lifted targeted measures imposed on some Zanu PF officials and had started a formal engagement with the country by holding meetings aimed at totally removing those sanctions through the so-called “Friends of Zimbabwe” initiative.
Locally, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), which deployed 7 000 observers, issued a damning verdict on the polls saying they were characterised by “a suspicious and systematic effort to disenfranchise over a million urban voters”.
Congratulatory messages have, however, been trickling in for Mugabe from his allies from Tanzania, Kenya and China, with the most notable coming from Sadc facilitator and South African President Jacob Zuma.
As the local, regional, continental and international misgivings continue. Mugabe’s isolation will persist.
Sadc and AU positions as well as local and Western misgivings all show Mugabe and Zanu PF might have secured victory by all means fair or foul, but not legitimacy.