Zanu-PF holding tightly to its authoritarian rule over Zim
The party, which has been in power since independence in 1980, has applied any means necessary to maintain its position. Elections or no elections, it is ready to defend its power, writes
ZIMBABWE’S constitution requires it to hold elections by July next year. It seems unlikely that the country’s political system will be reformed in time to ensure the election is free and fair. The opposition will therefore again be at a disadvantage.
It seems to have abandoned its calls for reform and is focusing on building coalitions.
It is widely believed that the government does not represent the people. Electoral fraud has been common over the years and the country’s socio-economic crisis continues.
In South Africa and Namibia, former liberation movements have maintained their dominance through credible elections. The polls have met legal and internationally accepted criteria.
But in Zimbabwe, the ruling Zanu-PF has dominated by abusing the country’s political and electoral systems.
Elections have often been deadly for the opposition.
Zanu-PF, which has been in power since independence in 1980, has applied any means necessary to hold on to this position. Elections or no elections, the party is ready to defend its power.
It manipulated the electoral process in 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2013. It lost elections to the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in March 2008 but refused to concede defeat.
Contrary to earlier practice when presidential, parliamentary and local government elections were conducted separately, the harmonised elections combined all of them into one. The elections in 2008 were the first. This led to a bloody presidential run-off in June 2008.
The incumbent Zanu-PF president claimed to have won again.
A coalition government was formed in 2009 and the parties negotiated a new constitution, which was approved in 2013. The Zanu-PF won the 2013 elections.
Although there was no evidence of political violence in 2013, forms of electoral chicanery were evident, compromising the legitimacy of the results.
After its 2013 “defeat”, the MDC resolved not to contest any elections until the system was fair.
Together with other (smaller) opposition parties, it boycotted all by-elections for the local government and the legislature from 2013.
These parties and certain civil society organisations gathered under the umbrella of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera). The group aimed to address problems that compromised the credibility of elections in Zimbabwe.
There are four main reasons why electoral institutions in the country are in urgent need of reform.
Municipal law should align with conventions such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
The Electoral Act should align with the new constitution. The consistently flawed electoral process has created a crisis of legitimacy.
Manipulation of the electoral process prevents a transfer of power in Zimbabwe.
The National Electoral Reform Agenda should be the primary target for reform. It has no credibility and has long been considered independent on paper only. Other targets for reform include: The judiciary: Most judges are perceived as sympathetic to the ruling party’s interests because they are part of its patronage network.
The security sector: The military, intelligence and police are widely considered partisan.
The bureaucracy, especially senior appointments: These are subject to manipulation by the ruling party.
In line with the new constitution of 2013, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) made some changes. Some were voluntary and others were required by the new constitution.
Voluntary reforms are mostly administrative. For example, voter registration is based on polling stations and on biometric information.
Mandatory or legal reforms include the creation of a new voters roll, keeping it secure, giving it to candidates in time and improving voter education.
The ZEC has also been working more closely with political parties, to stimulate confidence in the electoral process.
These specific achievements are important. But they are probably not enough. They fall short of Nera’s calls. And elections are threatened by political violence, abuse of state resources by the ruling party and vote-buying.
The ZEC’s reforms must take place within the framework of other systemic changes outlined above.
The Zanu-PF has managed to delay the debate on electoral reforms and the reform of the electoral act. There will not be enough time to make the changes before the 2018 elections. The opposition’s “Grand Coalition” is not likely to challenge the Zanu-PF successfully.
That party sees itself as having brought democracy to Zimbabwe. It will not reform itself out of power. Individuals in the government and the security apparatus are loyal to the ruling party.
The thin line between the party and state has a direct bearing on the political culture of militarisation of government business, fear and repression.
In practice, no distinction exists between the government and Zanu-PF officials, especially in the security sector. The party and state are heavily conflated.
The Ministry of Justice controls the finances of the Election Management Body. The government can get the EMB to waste time so that reforms will not threaten the Zanu-PF’s stranglehold in the next year’s elections.
Unless civil society sustains its pressure for reform and succeeds, the elections will serve only to legitimise continued authoritarian rule in Zimbabwe. – The Conversation Enock C Mudzamiri, DLitt et Phil Student in Politics, University of South Africa
RULING FOR LIFE? Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, centre, inspects a guard of honour mounted for him before the opening of parliament in Harare, Zimbabwe on Tuesday. The flawed electoral process has created a crisis of legitimacy and necessitated a reform of electoral institutions in the country, says the writer.