In less than a week, Zimbabwe will hold its 5th presidential election since independence from Britain in 1980. The election is expected to bring an end to the beleaguered power sharing deal between President Mugabe’s ZANU PF party and opposition l led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change. Contesting in the elections are Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube also of MDC, and the lesser known Dumiso Dabengwa of ZAPU and Kisnot Mukwazhi of the Zimbabwe Development Party.
In March 2013 Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution which called for an election as soon as possible. Consequently in June President Mugabe decreed elections will be July 31, leaving insufficient time to implement other reforms outlined in the new constitution. The citizens, opposition and other regional stakeholders have cried foul and questioned the need for such haste. Many have agreed the rushed election reduces the campaign period and gives the president’s party an unfair advantage as it has the state machinery at its disposal and therefore the election will be both un-free and unfair. This begs the question should the vote still proceed.
Yes the vote goes on; nothing can stop it at this late juncture
It is common knowledge the voters roll is bloated and needs purging. An estimated 1 million deceased persons are purportedly still on the rolls and a portion of the 3 million Zimbabweans in the diaspora, who are barred from voting, are also still on the rolls. The Mugabe led Justice Ministry and Zimbabwe Election Council has also turned down election observers from the “West”, as they are deemed pro opposition. Instead, SADC and AU will deploy 660 election observers with the 60 member AU team led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who in 2006 tried to change the constitution to allow him a third term. Another cause for concern in the time allowed for voting. Six million eligible voters are supposed to cast their votes in 2 days, an impossible feat, as seen last week when early voting for 87,000 law enforcement and military personal exceeded the mandated two days and was characterized by long lines , insufficient ballots and ink.
So why bother……
The abbreviated campaigning period, the logistical nightmare, election funding shortages, harassment and intimidation of the opposition not withstanding all parties should participate in the election. An un-free and unfair election is still important; it’s a step towards political transition. While a Mugabe win may not bring tangible change to the status quo it brings a real life learning experience to the opposition. In the 2002 elections the political and economic climate was terrible and the opposition sat out in protest, effectively excluding them from the political process. The conditions were worse in 2008 presidential elections but the opposition had learned their lesson and did participate, faring better resulting in a coalition. Win or lose the looming elections present the opposition an opportunity to build on experience, increase its visibility & influence while and solidify its position in the political forum. Participation provides an opportunity to measure the opposition’s maturity in the political arena. It allows the political parties to identify emerging leaders among the participants jockeying for power and allows the formation of alliances all which are helpful in laying the ground work for a succession plan.
Mobile phones and social media are playing an important role in this election. The ubiquity of mobile phones has increased access to information for all since the last election. Dissemination of information through social media has leveled the playing field a bit especially for the opposition, which is does not have established political campaign machinery. Citizens are getting real time updates on campaign events, harassment and arrests of the opposition presenting a new dynamic to this election. The ordinary citizens have been riveted, much to the consternation of the ruling party, by one anonymous Facebook and Twitter poster (pen names Baba Jukwa and @jukwanews24) who single handedly, has caused a storm within Mugabe’s party with daily exposés of internal secrets and underhanded shenanigans within the ruling party. Access to such information is unprecedented. The president’s party has dismissed anonymous poster; however the ordinary citizens are closely following this poster. Expectations are high with each side certain it will prevail.
So what are the implications of a victory by either side?
A Mugabe victory: A Mugabe win would mean more of the same; rejection of results by the opposition and the west, a continuation of the antagonistic relationship with the West, possible halt to talk of lifting sanctions, more economic refugees into the diaspora, and the country’s continued downward spiral into an abyss and widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots. A Mugabe win would also serve to show that the opposition still lacks political maturity. While the past 5yrs of the coalition have shown the opposition’s ability to govern, it has also exposed certain weaknesses that could turn voters away. There has been a lot of in fighting leading to the splinter into two factions MDC –T and MDC- N. Revealed is the opposition’s propensity towards self-enrichment and enjoying the luxuries that come with power. This has caused disillusionment and apathy among voters as they see MDC is no different to ZANU PF. A Mugabe win could also be a result of a split between the MDC-T and MDC-N. The Gukurahundi atrocities in Matebeleland in the early eighties in which at least 20,000 people were killed by the government forces of the much feared and ruthless 5th Brigade, are still a sore point among the voters in Matabeleland. This may split the oppositions vote along tribal lines with the Ndebeles voting for MDC-N lead by Welshman Ncube an ethnic Ndebele, resulting in a ZANU PF win. A
Tsvangirai victory: A win by Tsvangirai would be welcomed by many worldwide and would open a new chapter into uncharted territory. It would finally break Mugabe’s 34 year power grip on Zimbabwe. It would bring relief to the millions suffering from economic hardship that has left the country an empty shell of the former self. A huge cause for concern is the possible rejection of the result by ZANU PF and the Zimbabwe Armed Forces. The Joint Operation Command has vowed not to serve Tsvangirai. The generals have made no bones about their disrespect and disdain for Tsvangirai because he lacks credentials from the Rhodesian bush war and they view him as the West’s puppet. It is a possibility that the security forces will assist ZANU PF in manipulating the results to force a run off which would result in the same power sharing scenario. A Tsvangirai win would also be a wakeup call to ZANU PF, and hopefully force the party to realize how it has failed the people it’s supposed to be serving and change its ways, stay active and provide a possible Tsvangirai government in check as opposition. While there has never been a history of military coups in Zimbabwe a real possibility would be the security forces overthrowing Tsvangirai to install a pro ZANU
The election outcome remains to be seen, however, in an election filled with unknowns there are a few constants: regardless of the victor change is coming and that as always the African Union and SADC will declare this vote free and fair.
Chiedzo Tawonezvi is a Zimbabwean in the diaspora, currently in Washington DC. A globetrotter, news and sports junkie, interested in economic development, improved health care access & outcomes in Africa. Passionate about all things African, especially Africa below the equator. Tweets under @africasoequator