This is a second in a series of articles on a report by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) titled BVR, Zec and the Struggle Against Political Decay: A Light at the End of the Tunnel? and related important issues as part of the Zimbabwe Independent’s plan to cover the entire electoral process — that is what happens before, during and after elections — ahead of next year’s general election.
The Zimbabwean electoral problem fits well in what is conceptualised as machinations of a competitive electoral authoritarianism or, put more vividly, a militarised form of electoral authoritarianism founded on a serious synthesis of Zanu PF and the security forces.
This despotic concoction has been generously dispersed across key state institutions that are looked upon by citizens for credible and acceptable elections such as the judiciary, legislature, executive and ultimately Zec so that the decisive authority of the people’s vote is neutralised.
Since electoral processes serve as a gateway through which to transition to democracy, accountability and equip the citizens to control the erosion of quality of government in a polity, they have been a sphere of government vis-à-vis citizen tug-of-war in Zimbabwe. Moreover, being a central lynchpin and indicator of the people’s authoritative and decisive power in defining who gets what government position, when and how, electoral processes have attracted so much interest, brewed extinction fears and enticed overwhelming jealous-guarding in authoritarian regimes than nowhere else in our lifetime.
This dark electoral shadow has persistently haunted Zimbabweans since the beginning and/or intensification of political decay in the late 1990s in what was once celebrated as the “Jewel of Africa”. Elections and electoral processes have become the hottest zone guarded with serious investment in gluttonous clientelism, patrimonialism and militarisation of key state institutions.
Zec has been the main target of this relentless capture of the state from the people whilst hoodwinking hungry and desperate citizens into outrageous compradors in this Zanu PF process of “power retention by all means accessible ‘till donkeys grow horns’”. Thus, the germane problem in Zimbabwe rests on “the quality and conduct — not necessarily the outcome — of elections”.
Competitive electoral authoritarian regimes are usually typified by ritual-styled conduct of pseudo multiparty elections in a rigged electoral playing field infested with fraudulent voters’ roll, casting and counting of ballots, massive disenfranchising of opposition stronghold, biased state media and capture of the judiciary, legislature and electoral management institutions by the incumbent party leading to electoral results that contradict the will, expectations and yearnings of the public.
This has been a characteristic syndrome in Zimbabwe. The executive habitually compromises the judiciary through populating the bench with Zanu PF Trojan horse judges, turning the legislature into a rubberstamping puppet of Zanu PF, subverting Zec into a Zanu PF appendage, seen when it froze the announcement of Mugabe’s defeat for five weeks in 2008 and later on publicly blocked scrutiny of the 2013 election voters’ roll until a day towards elections where it further concealed scrutiny by giving tonnes of hard copies in open violation of the electoral law obliging it to timeously avail electronic copies for easy and precise scrutiny.
The Zanu PF regime has gone further up the ladder of electoral authoritarianism, it intensified the military factor, in the process making the problem grimmer and more impregnable. The most notable surprise gift that Zanu and/or President Robert Mugabe emerged from the Mozambican bush packaged for the people is the transmission into their heads that Zanu PF got legitimacy to govern by war, and by war it should leave power. Mugabe briefed unsuspecting Zimbabweans of this calculated electoral fascism as early as in 1976 when he said: “… our votes must go together with our guns; after all any vote … shall have been the product of the gun. The gun, which provides the votes, should remain its security officer, its guarantor.”
This was a clear communiqué to anyone that Zanu was not going to accept any election result besides a win in the 1980 election and forevermore, unless otherwise defeated militarily. It was a clear promise that the military will always be its electoral gerrymandering Trojan horse.
In no surprise, soon after winning the 1980 elections, it went on a ruthless electoral campaign codenamed Gukurahundi that saw it unleashing its militia, a concoction of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and a North Korean-trained 5th Brigade into the opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF-Zapu) stronghold in Matabeleland where in their moment of madness, an estimated 20 000 people were slaughtered in cold blood until the opposition leader Joshua Nkomo accepted to surrender his party to Zanu PF through the 1987 Unity Accord. A brief moment of sanity persevered until the emergence of a serious nationwide power contender, MDC, in 2000 when the moment of madness resurfaced till date.
This metamorphosed into a “governance-by-operations” militaristic style of policy implementation” that seemed tailored to emasculate the MDC electoral base ahead of 2008 harmonised elections. For instance, in 2005, the military was unleashed in Operation Murambatsvina, which depopulated an estimated 700 000 urban families or 2,4 million people who were the source of the MDC’s electoral victory. This was aimed at disorganising potential voters and buying them off through Operation Garikai-Hlalani Kuhle, which saw such people being given Zanu PF residence in a highly patrimonial manner.
Unlike the pre-1987 one which was suffered by black Ndebele ethnic peoples, the second moment of madness is suffered by all black and white opposition party people regardless of race or tribe. Mugabe reiterated his liberation struggle war cry in the 2008 campaign in these words: “We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed. We are not going to give up our country because of a mere x. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?”
This has posed as a serious challenge to the possibility of having any change via elections with or without BVR. This statement has chilling effects among officials in charge of electoral processes. Given the history of Zanu PF’s consistent and predictable trustworthiness when it comes to punitive promises of this manner, it follows that the already decayed human factor in those electoral institutions is assured of doing everything to make Zanu PF win.
Another Zanu PF cut-throat military sabotage of change possibilities has been the capture and control of electoral processes by the security forces and un-teething the judiciary to prevent its possible impartial exercise of constitutional safeguard of elections. In the 2008 elections, the Joint Operations Command (Joc) — a security apparatus made of heads of the air force, army, police, prison service, and central intelligence — was responsible for violence, delays and the executive’s clinging to power by hook and crook.
Apart from above-stated annals of institutional decay, there has been serious human factor decay in key institutions responsible for ensuring the conduct and administration of credible elections as a corollary of deepened electoral authoritarianism in Zimbabwe. This has been explicated by conflation of Zanu PF and the state wherein, he who sees Zanu PF sees the state and in all state organs at all levels, the ruling party is supreme, it has become a politicised party-state.
This conflation of the party, state and militarisation of the latter has been evident in electoral processes in all previous elections thus making regime change the least thinkable possibility.
In 2004, a Delimitation Commission (DC) was created by the Zanu PF leader and a military-related chair, former Judge Advocate responsible for military tribunals in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and High Court Judge, Justice George Chiweshe was appointed, he later on chaired Zec from 2005 to 2008 (CiZC, 2011). It was in his chairmanship that Zec lost its credibility when it held election results for five weeks in breach of the electoral laws of the country just because it was apparent that their patron, Mugabe, had lost election to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. It is this same Justice Chiweshe whom Mugabe promoted to be to Judge President in May 2010 (CiZC, 2011).
Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba once served as chief executive officer of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), a military chief known — like many other Zimbabwean generals — of declaring his support for Zanu PF and that he will not salute opposition political leaders. To account for names of security personnel appointed to key government institution would require a voluminous charter. The evidence of militarisation and Zanu PF/state conflation is compelling and outrageous.
It was no surprise that the serious manipulative loopholes were uncovered later in the 2013 voters’ roll by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) (2013) report. More shocking among them were: (i) urban population (the opposition stronghold) was systematically disenfranchised by being under-registered compared to rural ones (where Zanu PF has significant support), (ii) many urban youths did not appear on the roll compared to their rural counterparts (while it is a known fact that these are the people who vote for change), (iii) some were turned away over allegations of wrong documentation or missing name on the roll, (iv) too high proportions of aged and assisted voters on the roll, significant concentration of dead peoples’ names on the roll, (v) serious cases of multiple registrations and obviously voting and as such, and (vi) Zec announced an unbelievable Zanu PF win (a 48% increase from the previous performance) in the whole harmonised election where MDC-T declined from its previous performance with worrying percentages (Zesn, 2013).
Moreover, the Research Advocacy Unit analysis of the 2013 voters’ roll revealed that the roll had a worrying frequency of duplications amounting to above 800 000 voters. Zec has moved on to issue a tender to a Chinese firm, Laxton Group Limited to supply the BVR kits for registering voters. Although this move has been allegedly based on economic considerations of the lower costs and experience related to the company, this move has raised fears in view of the strong “Look East” policy of Zanu PF and its desire to use any means possible to retain power.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute is an independent political economy think-tank.