The 2013 Watershed Elections: Will they Produce a Free, Fair and Indisputable Outcome?”
A Presentation to a Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Public Seminar
Thursday 25 July 2013
New Ambassador Hotel, Harare
By Takura Zhangazha*
Mr. Chairman, Ladies, Gentlemen, Comrades and Friends,
Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to MPOI for inviting me to share a few thoughts on the important national matter of our country’s harmonised elections scheduled for next week on Wednesday July 31 2013. The primary question that the organisers of this meeting have asked me to address relates to the possibility that the results of the elections after their occurrence next week will be undisputed, free, fair and credible. It is a pertinent question that emerges from the precedence of June 2008 wherein, there was serious local and international disputation about the veracity of the both the results and the conditions in the run-up to the Presidential election run-off of June that year.
So the question being asked both in relation to the topic of the day as well as in speculative conversations in our country’s intellectual as well as social circles is a valid one. It stems from the lived political experiences of the immediate past as I allude to above as well as the general expectation by a majority of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly since the 1990s that elections/election results tend to be manipulated in one way or the other. These perceptions are perhaps the sum total of what our society has come to inadvertently express as political culture, just as much as the of given phrase, ‘kupinda muvanhu’ (to be with the people) is used for mobilization as well as legitimating of political candidates.
In the case of the elections that we are anticipating in the next few days there is a patent uniqueness to them in that they are being held with the context of an outgoing inclusive government which itself was the result of a disputed Presidential election and a hung parliament in 2008. This same said government was also a direct creation of external Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation, a development which remains unprecedented in our post independence history as a nation.
As a result of the foregoing, where and when we consider the entirety of the issue of whether or not these pending harmonized elections will be free and fair, let alone undisputed we must not lose sight of the fact that the outgoing government is the result of a disputed election result and a closely hung parliament. It was therefore a government that was formed not only in order to keep the country politically stable but also with the written and unwritten mandate to ensure that such a situation or circumstance as that which the country found itself in with the June 2008 presidential run-off must not be repeated again.
And this is the initial departure point where and when we wish to analyse the question that this important public debate wishes to address, though not with finality. The finality will eventually emerge from the electoral results and processes as announced and determined by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
The inclusive government had a specific mandate to democratize electoral laws particularly via the drafting of a new constitution amongst other less holistic reforms that were to occur in the interim. The first persons that should be brought to account on the basis of the subject matter at hand in this meeting are the leaders of the inclusive government. The criticism would be on the basis that they were the ones who were mandated at further democratizing the general political and particular electoral environment with the explicit intention of preventing any further disputes over and about either results or the credibility of a national electoral process.
From my own personal perspective, the inclusive government failed to satisfy the pre-requisites of ensuring a framework in which the people of Zimbabwe have confidence in the electoral system. And unfortunately a key evidence of this failure was the constitutional reform process which ended up in a referendum where people were instructed by the very same leaders to vote yes to a document that they had not read let alone integrated into their understanding of how electoral processes had been improved.
This in turn, after the much celebrated passing of the new constitution in parliament by the very same parties that crafted it, was to shock a number of us when there were clear disputes about the date of holding elections as well as post-cabinet disagreements about amendments to the electoral act to suit the new constitution. The constitutional court challenges together with the SADC extra-ordinary summit can therefore be viewed as the initial laying of the ground for the disputation of the electoral results as well as trying to frame the electoral process as not being credible enough. All of the latter issues were raised largely by the MDCs and may need no further elaboration as these were extensively covered both in the local and international media.
A second issue to consider when analyzing the possibility of elections being considered free and fair, and it’s a key one, is the perception and role of the international community through its international observers. Broadly spoken for, the Western side of the international community have already indicated that they are willing to recognize the victor of a credible election process. There is no heavy insistence on the term ‘free and fair’ for reasons that are still yet to be publicly announced but be that as it may, it essentially points to the fact that should the election be viewed as somewhat fair, somewhat free, they will accept the result.
Our own African brothers and sisters are however the most significant determining factor in assisting the world to come to a determination on whether to dispute whatever results are announced by ZEC. And this is a key departure point from the June 2008 presidential vote count. The AU and SADC have come here in large numbers not just because they have been invited to do so, but also because they intend to ensure they avoid pre-emptive allegations of not having monitored the process well enough. Their intention is to send a message to the main contenders that they are here and they are watching. This will most likely contribute to the minimalising of disputes around election results let alone processes themselves. Their presence in the country at the moment contributes significantly to a free and fair electoral environment for the elections as well as a the acceptance of the final results.
Having said all of the above and in fulfillment of what I would assume are some of the main issues that the organizers would have wanted addressed, I now turn to the most important measurement of legitimacy of the elections next week. This measurement was, is and will always remain the people of Zimbabwe. There is a lot of ambivalence on their part as regards the freeness and fairness of the election. There is also a lot of confusion. For example, given the fact that only a few of them have read and understood the new constitution, there are going to be many challenges over and about their knowledge of how exactly they are meant to vote. I say this with particular reference to the proportional representation system that will inform a quarter of the National Assembly seats and majority of the Senate.
So in the announcement of results there shall be a significant amount of confusion and in part a mathematical usage of mobile telephone calculators to try and found out what exactly the outcome is in relation to vote counts, averages and percentages. This will however not compromise the integrity let alone acceptance of results but will inevitably demonstrate what some activists have referred to as a ‘ democratic deficit’ where it comes to popular and informed participation in important national processes.
It is these doubts that will lead to questions being raised also about the fairness of the Presidential vote count by varying party supporters and depending on which candidate wins. These disputes however will not necessarily lead to particular instability depending on how well ZEC transparently announces results and allows for review of the same.
My penultimate point in this presentation relates to the whispered issue of whether or not the security services will accept a result that favours the mainstream opposition. This against the backdrop of previous announcements from commanders of the armed services before the inclusive government was formed that they will not accept a person who has not gone to the liberation struggle as their commander in chief. The political reality of present day points to a somewhat different circumstance. Given the reforms made with the consent of all parties under the aegis of SADC, any serious commander of the security services knows that they will have little or limited moral and political ground to reject the results.
In any event SADC will not accept it, not even if it happens against the backdrop of massive demonstrations by one party or the other. Whatever their misgivings, whichever party they individually support, members of our national defence forces will have to take the electoral result on the chin and act professionally. They would also do well to remember the lessons taught by Political Commissars, that in the struggle, the gun must always follow the politics and not vice versa.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate a number of points I have mentioned above. All elections are generally characterized by disputes over and about results and processes. Our elections are already minimally disputed both by the mainstream opposition and components of civil society organizations. Evidence of these disputes have spilled over into our courts of law.
These disputes however are short lived given the presence of SADC and AU observers, including the visit by the Chairperson of the AU Commission. The ability of ZEC will be key in determining the perceptions around these elections and unlike with the special voting system, the disputes will invariably be minimal. It is the contestants to the elections that are more likely to raise the tempo and seek disputes. The people of Zimbabwe will indeed vote, wait and anticipate that their will be respected, even if in part they do not know the electoral system as well as they democratically should.
*Takura Zhangazha talks/writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)