Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was sworn in on 22 August for another five-year term. On 18 August the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit had endorsed the landslide election victory by Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in the 31 July harmonised elections.
Nearly 3,5 million Zimbabweans cast their votes in the hope of ending the shaky coalition government comprising ZANU-PF, led by Mugabe; the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), led by then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai; and the MDC-N, led by then Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube. According to the election results released by the Zimbabwe Election Commission on 3 August, Mugabe received an overwhelming 61,09% of the vote. Tsvangirai won 33,9% and Ncube 2,68%. ZANU-PF now has more than a two-thirds majority in the House of Assembly, which will allow it to make changes to the country’s constitution.
The elections were initially described by African observers as ‘free and peaceful’, rather than ‘free and fair’. This description reflects the complex environment under which the elections took place. The seminar considered Zimbabwe’s electoral process, technical election management issues and the prospects for future elections, as well as the role of SADC. The event was chaired by eNCA Africa Editor Chris Maroleng and eNCA covered the event. The speakers were:
- Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa, Senior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria
- Piers Pigou, Project Director for Southern Africa, International Crisis Group
- Kealeboga J. Maphunye, WIPHOLD-Brigalia Bam Chair in Electoral Democracy in Africa, University of South Africa
Dzinesa discussed how the political parties approached the elections, citing instances of coercion, manipulation, mobilising popular support and voter turnout, and lastly, complacency. First, although coercion was not overtly used by the political parties and the electoral process was peaceful, the violence of past elections still lingered in the minds of many Zimbabweans, making them susceptible to ‘psychological warfare premised on manipulating the fear inculcated in communities’ over the years. Second, a more sophisticated route to victory could have been aided by the manipulation of the voter’s roll alongside other subtle interventions. Third, ZANU-PF should be credited for presenting a clear political campaign manifesto that encouraged patriotism. Fourth, ZANU-PF’s victory could partly be attributed to the complacency of the MDC-T, which paid no heed to warning signs, including a survey conducted by the Freedom House that indicated the party’s waning support.
Maphunye’s contribution included that the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) needs to undertake critical self-introspection on how it managed the electoral process in order to carefully address the weaknesses that were raised by the various election observer teams. He noted ZEC’s deficits in technical capacity and emphasised the importance of professionalising the electoral management process in future. Maphunye therefore suggested a holistic approach to ensure comprehensive management of future elections in Zimbabwe.
Pigou argued that there was a noted shift in SADC’s facilitation of the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe, moving from a reform agenda to one of containment to ensure stability and peaceful elections. He noted that although the GPA parties drafted an electoral roadmap in 2011 they failed to agree on its implementation resulting in the subsequent abandonment of the roadmap. Beyond summit communiqués, SADC failed to implore the GPA parties to fully implement the agreement before conducting elections despite the clear absence of effective internal monitoring. The shift to a containment agenda compromised the regional body’s legitimacy as a promoter of democracy.
Discussions during the seminar noted the uncertainty of Zimbabwe’s political and economic trajectory as well as its international relations. The ZANU-PF government could intensify the implementation of the indigenisation and economic empowerment law in fulfilment of its election campaign manifesto. The party could also decide to moderate the implementation of the policy as part of reforms to shed its pariah status on the international stage and in order to attract new foreign direct investment. It remains to be seen how Western nations will respond. ZANU-PF will also need to address the post-Mugabe leadership succession issue in a way that helps to revive Zimbabwe’s image internationally. Meanwhile, the MDC-T, despite denouncing the vote as a ‘huge farce’ and ‘null and void’ needs to assess the party's election performance in preparation for future polls.