Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand

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Africa Briefing N°95

A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely as Zimbabwe holds elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist.

“Major political institutions will have to make difficult choices in August. No policy would be free of costs, but a renewed effort to uphold basic standards would stand the best chance eventually to cure Zimbabwe’s dangerous fevers”. Piers Pigou, Crisis Group’s Southern Africa Project Director

In its latest briefing, Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand, the International Crisis Group examines Wednesday’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections. With the voters roll in shambles, security forces unreformed, the media grossly imbalanced, the electoral commission ill-prepared and allegations of rigging pervasive, it is likely they will be so deeply flawed, or the results so sharply contested, that they will usher in an exacerbated crisis.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:

President Robert Mugabe, at 89 years old and with 33 years at the helm, seeks to ensure his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) regains full control of government before embarking on a fraught succession process. Out-manoeuvring both the two rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), ZANU-PF hardliners, supported by the president, secured a Constitutional Court ruling that confirmed the premature election date, shutting down any prospects of necessary reform.

MDC formations favoured a later date but had to participate, as a boycott would have been counter-productive. The opposition parties feel they must demonstrate they retain popular support.

ZANU-PF has a strong resource advantage in the campaign. The two MDC formations have struggled to raise money but are relatively well organised. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T believes it can win the presidency but fears the electoral commission is being undermined from within and cannot deliver a free and credible electoral process.

SADC and the African Union (AU), the only outside entities with sufficient standing, self-interest and on-ground presence to have a chance of managing a potentially explosive situation, face severe credibility tests. They must avoid a narrow, technical approach. If the vote is deeply flawed, they should declare it illegitimate and press for a re-run after several months of careful preparation, or, if that is not possible, facilitate negotiation of a compromise acceptable to the major parties. Strong diplomacy will be needed to forestall violence if the presidential contest moves to a run-off in conditions like 2008, or, if President Mugabe loses at any stage, to ensure a smooth transition.

“Five years on from the violence and chaos that the flawed 2008 elections led to, Zimbabwe’s main political actors each retain substantial national support and a claim to exercise primary responsibility for the nation’s future”, says Trevor Maisiri, Crisis Group’s Southern Africa Senior Analyst. “However, they have made little if any genuine progress toward the mutual trust, or at least tolerance, that might enable them to agree on a solution to their political deadlock”.

“Major political institutions, like the European Union, that have indicated they will follow an African lead in these elections will have to make difficult choices in August”, says Piers Pigou, Southern Africa Project Director. “No policy would be free of costs, but a renewed effort to uphold basic standards would stand the best chance eventually to cure Zimbabwe’s dangerous fevers”.