As things stand at present, it is evident that these elections cannot be called free, fair or credible without some remarkable changes taking place.
Ibbo Mandaza & Tony Reeler
The fast approaching elections in Zimbabwe are cause for great concern. Far too many critical aspects of the process have been shrouded in secrecy or reluctantly conceded using rigid legal criteria and no discretionary interpretation to build confidence. The continued arrogance and lack of separation of both the state and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) from the ruling party, requires challenging by the electorate that has expressed mounting concern about the credibility and transparency of the agency tasked to conduct this election.
Key critical events leading to this crisis of confidence include the 2008 elections where the military directly intervened to prevent a transfer of power, a fact admitted publicly and privately by senior politicians within the ruling party.
The failure of the African community, notably Sadc and the African Union, to comprehensively resolve the 2008 crisis remains a cause of the current problems. By both tacitly endorsing the role of the military by failure to sanction the violence, and the weak response to five years of reform resistance by Zanu PF during the Global Political Agreement, this enhanced the confidence of the military leadership to continue on their trajectory of militarisation of all aspects of the state and independent institutions.
Following the disputed 2013 elections, the region and international community remained ambivalent toward escalating tension and divisions within all political parties. In particular, Zanu PF, driven by succession battles and a deteriorating economy, was unable to govern effectively and this contributed to the events of November 2017. There was a weak response to the military undertaking “corrective action” to resolve an internal crisis within Zanu PF, nor any credible response to two dubious judgments in the Supreme Court aimed at sanitising the military intervention. This ambivalence has granted the military increasing confidence to meddle in all aspects of civilian rule and life.
The questionable reluctance to address the power transfer by its correct name, a military coup, creates the proximal challenges for the elections scheduled on July 30. It is clear to all Zimbabweans that the elections have been linked to sanitising the coup outcome by the region and international community. It is also clear that the promises by the “new dispensation” to institute state reform, transparency and accountability are not being honoured by either the civilian government or the military.
While it is to a small extent understandable that there was reluctance by both the international community and Zimbabwean political parties to forthrightly call this intervention a coup, this failure is a proximal cause of the problems with the elections scheduled for later this month.
The consequence has been replaced by the requirement that the elections meet a higher standard than is usual, and has become the condition for international re-engagement. This requires a much more robust engagement by the government and the international community on the conditions for these elections.
The key to this outcome was promised by the “new dispensation” as accountable and transparent government, with an emphasis on reforming the state. There is no evidence that the government has delivered any reforms of any consequence outside of those aimed at the economy. There is no evidence that the “new dispensation” has shown any commitment to good governance, rule of law and adherence to human rights, and, even more seriously, to a commitment to constitutionalism.
Two examples amongst many will illustrate this. The first is the lack of response by the government to the court ruling against Chief Fortune Charumbira and the Council of Chiefs’ statement to support Zanu PF in the 2018 elections. Rather than insist that the court decision be obeyed as per the constitution and the law, the government has allowed Charumbira to challenge the decision.
The second is a similar lack of response to the rulings by both the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Masvingo High Court on the compelled involvement of schoolchildren in political rallies.
To these two small examples must be added the deployment of soldiers in civilian attire into rural communities, the partisan distribution of food and agricultural inputs and the complete failure to reform the partisan state media and broadcasting services. This all indicates the complete lack of crucial reforms necessary for establishing a level playing field.
The technical aspects of the election must be added to these problems. Here, the complete lack of confidence in Zec, stated increasingly more vigorously by political parties, and supported by the views of ordinary citizens captured in opinion polls, only deepens the growing crisis.
In sum, the minimal conditions for the holding of free, fair and credible elections are wholly absent. As such, we note with increasing alarm the noticeable lack of open expression of concern by the international community and international observers. The differences between the views of most Zimbabweans and the international community seem to suggest that we might all be living in different countries. This is not trivial, and we fear once again the adverse consequences of the lack of muscular reaction by the international community to flawed elections and stolen political power.
In order that these elections have any prospect of being regarded as minimally free, fair and credible, three urgent actions must be undertaken by the government with the active support of the international community.
Firstly, the matter of the printing of the ballot papers must be resolved by a transparent and fully observed printing in all its aspects; and likewise the collation and distribution of the ballots to province and constituency. While time might not allow any change of printing, all other aspects must be transparently observed by all stakeholders.
Secondly, on the matter of the voters’ roll, all irregularities must be dealt with in a transparent and urgent manner, with an independent audit. Electronic copies of the roll must be readily available to all that request this, whether political parties, candidates or citizens.
Thirdly, there must be removal of all the military personnel currently deployed within the communities in the country. This should be observed and audited by a multi-party group that includes representatives of the major international observer missions.
Mandaza and Reeler are the conveners of Platform for Concerned Citizens.