Zimbabwe 2013: Elections and legitimacy

Zimbabwe will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 31 July 2013.

Zimbabwe flag

Tony Dykes is director of action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), the successor organisation to the Anti Apartheid Movement

Zimbabwe will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 31 July 2013.

For at least 13 years Zimbabwe has been in a political, economic and social crisis, characterised by denying legitimacy. Zanu PF derides those who oppose it as not having legitimacy because they are not a liberation movement or did not fight in the liberation war, characterising such organisations and people as agents of imperialism and colonialism.

The Movements for Democratic Change and others say Zanu PF lacks legitimacy because it sustains itself in power through violence, intimidation, harassment – ensuring the institutions of the state serve it, patronage and corruption.

So will the elections help overcome Zimbabwe’s crisis?

They will not be fair but that is not what the regional bloc – the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international community – will ask. They will ask whether the election has been peaceful and the result credible.

Violence has declined in Zimbabwe since the presidential run off in 2008. SADC said the presidential election did not meet SADC principles and guidelines for democratic elections. This led to an agreement to form an inclusive government.

It has been a form of power sharing but one in which the institutions of the state, i.e. the army, police, civil service have been partisan in support of one political party.

On the positive side, since the formation of the inclusive government rampant inflation which led to the Zimbabwe dollar becoming worthless has been reduced to single figures. Violence and intimidation, although still present, have reduced from the level of 2008 and a new constitution was recently approved.

However, laws which prevent freedom of organisation and expression including access to state media remain in force. Many see the continued existence of such laws and the failure to transform institutions of the state – so they no longer serve one party – as a denial of democracy.

Civil society in Zimbabwe is calling for Zimbabweans to have the right to vote freely without external interference or internal intimidation, an accurate and up-to-date electoral roll (recent checks suggest it could be out by over two million people in an estimated electorate of around six million), fair access to and fair coverage by state controlled media, impartiality by institutions of the state, domestic election observers and truly independent external election observer missions in place well before the election.

Across southern Africa and internationally many want Zimbabwe to ‘move on’ so it is no longer an issue on SADC’s agenda. The EU and others are not raising issues of human rights and democracy, accountability and transparency on such as diamond revenues. Some believe that the west wants access to the potential mineral wealth of Zimbabwe.

But could this wish for Zimbabwe to move on lead to elections which are not democratic, which are rigged, so there is one outcome is ok’d by the regional body and accepted internationally?

SADC after all did call the 2002 and 2005 elections fair when to many other observers they clearly did not meet any norms for democratic elections. Deciding whether an electoral process has been peaceful may be a straightforward thing, but how will it be decided whether the election is credible? How does one support the calls of Zimbabwean civil society for human rights and democracy to be upheld without being labelled a colonialist?

If the regional bloc and others go along with a rigged election then there will continue to be issues of legitimacy. It is unlikely that a government which is elected by a rigged election process will address the urgent issues of rebuilding Zimbabwe and ensuring that its wealth and potential are used for the benefit of all its citizens.

ACTSA will be holding a ‘Demonstration for democracy’ outside the Zimbabwe Embassy at 1pm on election day, 31 July.

One Response to “Zimbabwe 2013: Elections and legitimacy”

  1. Matthew Blott

    A quick glance at the member states of the SADC is hardly a who’s who of functioning liberal democracies so its assessment of the Zimbabwe election process has as much credibility as a News International investigation into phone hacking. Of course the election won’t be fair, Robert Mugabe like most kleptocrats has no wish to give up power and while he has the support of the armed services there will only be one outcome. He will only leave office when he is wearing a wooden overcoat.

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