Curing the coup: Polls or transitional govt?

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Young women walk past an armoured personnel carrier that stations by an intersection as Zimbabwean soldiers regulate traffic in Harare on November 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's military appeared to be in control of the country on November 15 as generals denied staging a coup but used state television to vow to target "criminals" close to President Mugabe. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA

Since our last opinion piece, it is evident that there is growing complacency about both what has taken place and what is likely to take place in the aftermath of the coup last year.

Ibbo Mandaza & Tony Reeler,Scholars

If history teaches us one lesson about unconstitutional assumption of power, it is that the actors do not do this in order to create political space for someone else. This is a lesson that needs to be taken on board in all the trumpeting about how an election can cure the coup that has taken place in Zimbabwe. Several observations are pertinent here.

Firstly, it is evident that the government that has replaced the Robert Mugabe regime does not behave as if it is merely completing the term of the previous government: it is taking bold measures to consolidate itself by the purging of the vanquished faction and announcing some belated economic reforms. This quite clearly suggests that the “new” government intends to persist beyond an election. This, in turn, implies that they expect to be the next government.

Secondly, and much more important, is the fact that the “new” government increasingly contains the military within it. This is not a case of the military enforcing a change in the civilian arrangements and then returning to the barracks.

As the Financial Times commented, “Mr Mnangagwa’s early cabinet appointments, including key military figures from November’s “non-coup” coup, do not bode well. He should be appointing competent technocrats.”

Thirdly, credible evidence suggests that the desire among some in the “new” government for a transitional arrangement has been overruled by the military demands to be included in the civilian state. The notion that this was a military-assisted transition begins to look thinner and thinner by the day! As Alex Magaisa pointed out, and referring to 2008:

What guarantee is there, especially after the events of last November, that if the opposition wins the elections, the Mnangagwa administration and the military will honour their duties under the constitution and hand over power? Will they be ready to walk away from power less than seven months after they took it by force?

Fourthly, it is evident that, since 2013, there has been no credible attempt to adhere to constitutionalism and the constitution, and nor has there been any credible attempt at the reforms that the constitution mandates. Furthermore, there has been the husbanding of Zimbabwe into deeper economic instability.

Both prior and post the coup, the regional and international community has taken a watch-and-see approach, and, since the December coup, now appears to condone this unconstitutional development. There are diplomatic ways to describe a coup, but there is a huge difference between calling it an “ongoing political transition”, as the EU Foreign Affairs Council has just done, and expressing “concern” over a “military assisted transition”. The latter merely encourages further unconstitutional action by the Zimbabwe government.

The increasingly forlorn hope that all of this can be “cured” through an election thus deserves very careful scrutiny.

Undoubtedly, a completely unimpeachable election process that leads to a clear winner and the acceptance of the losers will allow everyone to breathe freely and re-engagement can happen with alacrity. But much less than this will be a disaster.

Hence, if we are to accept that elections will be the sine qua non of international acceptance of the coup, then we must determine the minimum conditions, in the current Zimbabwean context, under which an election can satisfy the growing critics.

We would suggest that the following are mandatory if the election is to have any credibility in the aftermath of the military intervention.

Firstly, there must be security sector containment. As a bare minimum this will require a public statement by the heads of security services that they will be non-partisan in terms of the constitution and their enabling legislation. This needs to be expanded by the removal of security personnel from civilian activities, including command agriculture, and the setting up of multi-party monitoring team to ensure compliance with all of the above.

Secondly, there must be traditional leader containment. Again, as a bare minimum this will require a public statement by Council of Chiefs that they will be non-partisan in terms of the constitution and their enabling legislation. These public statements will need to be repeated by all chiefs in all areas, accompanied by their headmen and village heads, and, again, the setting up of multi-party monitoring team to ensure compliance with the above.

Thirdly, it is critical to ensuring that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is completely impartial. This can be done either placing a Sadc-appointed chair of ZEC or providing a Sadc-appointed “shadow” for the Zimbabwean-appointed chair. There are calls for this already.

Additionally, there must be the setting up of multi-party monitoring team to ensure full compliance with all aspects of the constitution and the Electoral Act. Furthermore, no constraints must be placed on Zimbabwean civil society bodies undertaking civic education or observing elections, and no barring of any country or body that wishes to observe elections, including long-term observers.

Fourthly, there is the essential requirement to providing open access to radio and television. There must be a public statement by the government that all political parties have open access to state radio and television, and also the setting up of a multi-party monitoring team to ensure compliance with open access and equality of access for political parties.

Fifthly, the process of elections themselves needs to allow the fullest participation of all Zimbabwean citizens, as was the case in 1980. This means that there must be an amendment of the Electoral Act to allow full proportional representation for the presidency and the House of Assembly. Citizens can thus vote anywhere, and parties will be accorded seats according to their proportion of the vote.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) must be given greater resources in order to investigate all allegations of political violence, intimidation and hate speech. Furthermore, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) must be given resources sufficient to follow up all allegations of political violence, intimidation and hate speech reported to the ZHRC, and to institute peace building measures.

Practically, this will also need local government elections to be postponed to 2019, especially as there is contention about the need for devolution, and this needs a national consultation rather than simple statements that devolution is too expensive.

These reforms are the urgent reforms without which no bona fide election can take place if we are to move away from unconstitutionality, create confidence in a genuinely elected government, and re-engagement with the international community.
So, why have an election at all if it cannot cure the coup?

If the reforms suggested above are fundamental to a decent and acceptable election, then why do we not rather take the time to do these carefully, with the full involvement of the citizens of Zimbabwe, and the assistance of the regional and international community? It is evident that these reforms will be impossible within the current two months, and hence it is cynical for the regional and international community to place any faith in the notion that the coup will be cured by an election. We can be forthright and state that no free and fair election is possible in the current situation.

Therefore, the question is pertinent: elections which, to all intents and purposes, cannot be free, fair and credible in the current circumstances; or a transitional government along the lines of that proposed, and marked behind the scenes, in the months before and during the coup? The latter would cure the coup, ensure immediate engagement with the global community; make possible the clearing of our arrears with the international financial institutions; attract the much-needed foreign investment and possible balance of payments support; and, above all, necessitate the postponement of elections for two years during which period the requisite political and economic reforms will and must be effected.

Mandaza and Reeler are the co-convenors of the Platform for Concerned Citizens.

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