Dealing with the ‘hard landing’

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We have finally hit the “hard landing” predicted in 2016.

By Ibbo Mandaza & Tony Reeler

The events taking place in the past week, and the processes leading to the election were predictable from 2016 onwards when the Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) first offered a solution to the party-state-military conflation. This conflation could not be undone through an election: it required a thoroughgoing national response.

It was pointed out that the succession struggles within the party-state-military conflation would be increasingly bitter, with the prospects of violence and even a coup. All this came to pass.

Following the coup in November, the rhetoric, both national and international, was that this patent defect would be resolved by a free, fair and credible election. Implicitly this required a determined process of reform of the state, and the conflation, but was replaced by the litany around economic reform and stability. There has been no reform of the state in any material fashion, nor, as has been seen in the months of the lead up to the current elections, has there been any whole-hearted conformity to constitutionalism.

This inevitably has led to the deeply flawed elections that are taking place. The numerous flaws are evident to all, as evidenced by many reports over past months by all local observer groups. These flaws were noted as well as the observer groups that initiated long-term observation: the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM), the joint International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Zimbabwe International Election Observation Mission (ZIEOM).

The independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has been widely questioned, and it was critical to the acceptance of these elections that Zec’s independence was not in question. The lack of transparency was most evident over the ballot papers and the voters roll, but there were also cases were the constitution and the law was violated, as, for example, in not having the voters’ roll available for nominations. These are but a handful of examples, but many other examples are noted in the plethora of observer reports. The attitude of Zec led to multiple court cases having to be initiated in order to get Zec to fulfil its mandate correctly.

The actual election has led to acrimony, dispute and now very serious violence. The lack of transparency over the final count has been a significant precipitant of protest, but there is now complete dispute over the results as a whole. This has been the largest turnout by voters since 1980, and the not the expectation of the citizens of Zimbabwe are that that their votes should be treated so contemptuously.

However, in this respect, and in common with all elections since 2000, the management of the results has been so opaque as to remove all confidence in the results being a fair reflection of the vote. It was abundantly clear ahead of the elections that the citizens were doubtful about the independence of Zec, that the counting would reflect their vote, and even whether the military would respect the outcome.

With such a flawed process, it was entirely predictable that there would be discontent and protest by the citizens, but the brutal attack on the protestors by a renegade faction of the military can only reinforce the belief that Zimbabwe has become a military state.

In the past, all international bodies have enjoined the opposition to seek legal redress for the disputes. This has proved to be an ineffective remedy for all electoral disputes since 2000, and it is common cause that Zimbabweans have lost faith in the independence of the judiciary when it comes to highly political disputes such as elections.

Since the coup, and a number of dubious decisions by the courts, this lack of faith has been strengthened.

Thus, this election is now damaged beyond repair, and the nation is being precipitated into a major constitutional crisis. Few Zimbabweans will accept the outcome, and Zimbabwe will continue to be an outsider in the international community if no government can be put in place that has both national and international acceptance.

It is evident to all Zimbabweans that the condition for the international community accepting the coup as not a coup, was that a peaceful transition from Zanu PF under Mugabe was an election that was beyond reproach. This has manifestly not happened, and the result is a country more divided than ever before, as the Zimbabwe Council of Churches point out in their recent pastoral letter.

The only way forward is for the elections to be seen as totally disputed, the “hard landing” that should have been avoided.

Any other solution such as an elite-pact of a Government of National Unity (GNU) will be contemptuous of the ordinary citizens who voted in their millions, and whose voice must be heard in the solution. Both the major contestants to the just-completed elections appear to repudiate the idea of a GNU or power sharing, but neither offers a solution other that the demand that the election conveys the power of government to them. This is totally inappropriate as a solution for the deepening national crisis.

The only remedy is for a national dialogue leading to a National Transitional Authority (NTA), a period of existence which can allow the necessary reforms for a genuine election.

We need the removal of the heavy hand of the military, the establishment of a body that, with parliament, undertakes the range of reforms that leads to economic stability, the reform of state institutions, and an absolute adherence to the constitution and constitutionalism. This is the only way in which we can proceed to elections after the NTA, and an outcome were winners are actually winners, and losers accept the result. Then we will on the way to deeper democracy in Zimbabwe.

Mandaza and Reeler are conveners of the Platform for Concerned Citizens.

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