Legitimacy will come from credible elections

Zimbabwe’s transformation from a failed state to a democracy will almost entirely depend on the country’s ability to hold free, fair and credible elections this year.

Candid Comment,Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

The nexus between undemocratic governance and sham elections is a well-established fact in politics.

We all know why Botswana, a country that has depended on a single mineral, diamonds, has attained remarkable levels of economic development while the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has every precious mineral under the sun, is routinely described as the world’s poorest country.

It is not difficult to see that, in the case of Botswana, viable economic policies and democratic political systems have dovetailed in a manner that has propelled human development. The DRC, on the other hand, has flouted every tenet of democracy known to mankind.

But even the darkest night must come to an end and the sun has to rise again. After decades of ruinous dictatorship, mismanagement, corruption and breath-taking incompetence, Zimbabwe has arrived at what promises to be a defining moment: the 2018 general election.

The situation is very fluid and there are plenty of unanswered questions. Is Zimbabwe headed for yet another disputed election? Can the country hold a free, fair and credible election? Will the securocrats, who wield immense influence, allow a truly democratic election?

We may disagree on many issues but we must concur that Zimbabweans deserve a clean election. Only a clean break with the days of electoral theft can deliver democratic legitimacy.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa rose to power on the back of a de facto coup. We cannot sugar-coat it. He knows he is wearing borrowed robes and standing on feet of clay. What can only grant him legitimacy is a clean and credible election.

So far, in this late pre-election phase of the electoral cycle, the realities on the ground point to yet another disputed election.

The Election Resource Centre, a not-for-profit watchdog, has pointed to “systematic manipulation” — which broadly refers to the blatant manner in which the electoral processes fall far short of internationally recognised minimum standards of fairness.

For instance, it is unacceptable that in a 21st century election a huge swathe of the population is barred from participating. There is really no valid reason why the diaspora and prisoners are denied their right to vote.

There is a whole litany of democratic deficits that is tarnishing the credibility of this election. Vote-buying; intimidation of voters by traditional leaders; delays in aligning provisions of the Electoral Act; inequitable and unfair coverage by the public media; suppression of voters in urban areas through the skewed distribution of biometric voter registration kits.

Elections are rarely rigged via ballot stuffing in this day and age; the manipulation is done insidiously via political intrigue, tilting the scales in favour of incumbents.

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