On the eve of Zimbabwe’s first elections without Robert Mugabe, the opposition already has a solid case against an outcome giving President Emmerson Mnangagwa outright victory. The harmonized elections, set for Monday, July 30th, have already been rigged in favour of the incumbent and his ruling Zanu PF party.
A survey released by the leading African polling firm Afrobarometer last week found that the incumbent is no longer guaranteed outright victory. Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Alliance candidate, has reduced Mnangagwa’s lead in opinion polls from 11 points in May to just 3. Mnangagwa, 75, Zanu PF’s presidential candidate, would grab 40% of the votes while Chamisa would claim 37%.
Chamisa, a lawyer, became the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) in February after the death of renowned opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. At 40, he’s Zimbabwe’s youngest presidential candidate. He personifies Zimbabweans’ collective hunger for real change after 37 years of corrupt and bloodstained Zanu PF rule.
Chamisa’s last minute surge, which came against the backdrop of a campaign “hamstrung by a modest war chest“, raises the possibility of either outright opposition victory or a presidential runoff. Zimbabwe’s history of election rigging and voter suppression, and Mnangagwa’s undemocratic path to power, suggests that a ballot victory may not automatically take Chamisa straight to State House in Harare.
Mnangagwa grabbed power last November through a military coup that toppled Mugabe, 94. Before that, “The Crocodile” had served the fallen dictator since the southern African country, formerly Rhodesia, gained independence from Britain in 1980.
The coup was neither about change nor democracy. The military intervened to determine the outcome of Zanu PF’s protracted power struggles. It deliberately sought to strengthen the party’s grip on power. A weakened and divided ruling party under either Mugabe or his wife, Grace, would have faced certain defeat in 2018. The MDC Alliance’s momentum renders uncertain the post-dictatorship Zanu PF resurrection Zimbabwe’s partisan and politicized military had hoped for when it ousted things. That complicates things.
The purging of Grace Mugabe also communicated a message previously heard: The military leadership has always been against a president without liberation war credentials. Now, having consolidated its role as political kingmaker, it’s unlikely to accept a democratically elected administration that would undo years of government militarization.
The minimum requirements for a credible, free and fair election are missing. The fallen dictator’s election rigging monster is alive and well.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) lacks separation from the state, the ruling party, and the military. Retired military officers constitute 15% of the commission’s staff. A pre-election survey released by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches found that an overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans doubt ZEC’s competency and impartiality. While ZEC has repeatedly shrugged off the opposition’s concerns and marches for electoral reform, the commission’s critics cannot be easily dismissed.
Recently, ZEC allowed Zanu PF access to voters’ private information, including phone numbers.
ZEC purposely designed the 2018 presidential ballot paper to give the incumbent increased visibility. Instead of a single column listing candidates in alphabetical order, the ballot has two columns with Mnangagwa’s name and picture heading the column on the right. It’s a contravention of the Electoral Act, which states that ballot papers should list candidates “in alphabetical order of surnames”. In a single column setup, the president would be sandwiched somewhere in the middle.
A report (pdf) released by Team Pachedu, an independent group of concerned Zimbabwean human rights experts and data scientists, found underage voters, incomplete voter information, and more than 250 000 “ghost voters” on the 2018 biometric voters’ roll (BVR) issued by the ZEC. Déjà vu.
In 1995, I was part of a team that independently investigated an election Zanu PF had stolen in the parliamentary district of Harare South. We unearthed massive election fraud and voter suppression. Scores of Zanu PF supporters had illegally voted. Some had voted more than once. Unregistered and dead people had voted. People had voted without proper voter identification. Others had voted using fictitious or incomplete addresses.
History of violence
Zimbabwe has a tortured history of state-sponsored violence, dating back to the 1970s armed struggle against colonial rule. Mugabe owes his 37-years in power to state-sponsored election violence.
In April, a retired lieutenant general reminded people in Masvingo province “not to forget the violence” of the 2008 presidential election. Then the fallen dictator lost the first round to the late Morgan Tsvangirai. Mnangagwa, then Mugabe’s election agent, teamed up with the security forces and sabotaged the runoff. More than 200 opposition supporters were murdered in retribution. Then the military threatened to unleash even more violence against the opposition. Fearing for the safety of his supporters, Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff, allowing Mugabe to be controversially re-elected.
The Afrobarometer poll captured Zimbabweans’ residual anxieties. Six in ten would prefer a negotiated coalition government to a presidential runoff.
The military’s human rights violations targeting rural Zimbabweans during the Mugabe era are widely documented. After the anti-Mugabe coup, the military was expected to cast a dark shadow over the 2018 election. By June, the military had begun to interfere in the 2018 elections “by sending more than 2,000 soldiers to rural areas.” The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute recently reported increased military presence in the countryside, creating “a climate of fear that undermines the holding of free and fair elections.”
The rural populace, where the ruling party draws the bulk of its support, is easier to intimidate. Meanwhile, traditional chiefs have always been the foot soldiers of Zanu PF’s aid-for-votes and fear-mongering strategies. In January, they received brand new luxury cars.
The deployment of soldiers in villages may also suggest that the military side of the post-coup pact in Zanu PF might still be tempted to try and alter the peoples’ will in the event of opposition victory.
After the 2018 election, Zimbabwe will not pass the democracy test.
The human rights violation committed during the Mugabe-era are another reason why Zanu PF and the security forces may prevent the opposition from assuming power.
President Mnangagwa and his military benefactors are implicated in Zimbabwe’s early 80s Gukurahundi massacre of 20 000 members of the Ndebele-speaking minority of the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. Gukurahundi was a government policy. As Mugabe’s national security minister between 1980 and 1988, Mnangagwa was in charge of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), Zimbabwe’s dreaded secret police. Perence Shiri, a coup leader now serving Mnangagwa as agriculture minister, commanded the Fifth Brigade, the government’s main Gukurahundi killing machine.
The government’s military-led Murambatsvina campaign of 2005 displaced as many as 700 000 families.
Mnangagwa has steadfastly refused to acknowledge his confirmed role in the Gukurahundi massacres and pre-coup government-sponsored human rights violations. Instead, since assuming power, he’s presented himself to the international community as the anti-Mugabe.
Gullible sections of the West have embraced some of his popular clichés, such as “new dispensation” and “open for business“. Foreign officials often characterize him as “not as feared as Mugabe”. Zimbabwe is said to be “better off now“.
Soon after the coup, Mnangagwa announced he’d compensate the white farmers whose land the Zanu PF government has confiscated since 2000. Since the announcement, the British government has reportedly been “banking on Mnangagwa rule“. Zimbabwe’s former colonizer’s willingness to jump into bed with Zanu PF, the party of Mugabe, is disturbing but not surprising.
After the genocidal Gukurahundi killings, Mugabe bagged honorary degrees from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, the University of Massachusetts, and Michigan State University. In 1994, the former dictator became the Knight Commander of the Order of Bath, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Through the 2018 elections, Zimbabweans will challenge these racial double standards – by rejecting Mnangagwa and his overstayed Zanu PF party. The opposition’s resurgence is a rebuttal of the international community’s apparent willingness to legitimize a dangerous Zanu PF thug who used “to bide his time before suddenly crunching Mr Mugabe’s enemies“. The power Mnangagwa grabbed through the barrel of the gun will not be legitimized.
For many Zimbabweans, Mnangagwa is Mugabe 2.0. He represents the continuation of Mugabe’s terrible legacy of misrule, corruption, and brutality.
On the campaign trail, the president has presented himself as the best person to bring back “Western cash, but little else“. He’s proposed a post-Mugabe economy that favors global capitalism and no clarity on whether the imminent accelerated export of Zimbabwe’s vast natural resources will result in increased social spending.
Job creation is the biggest issue in this election. The Afrobarometer survey found that Zimbabweans see Chamisa as the more capable candidate on that file.
Should Zanu PF and the military subvert Zimbabweans’ will on July 30, the international community should not hesitate to jump to the right side of history.
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, Zimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad
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