ZIMBABWE’S overtures to rejoin the Commonwealth could come to naught in the aftermath of a tainted general election, with members of the British Parliament saying Harare’s re-admission must rise or fall on the credibility of the 23 August poll.
The country has been seeking re-admission to the Commonwealth, two decades after quitting following clashes between the club of mostly former British colonies and the long-time ruler Robert Mugabe over policy conflicts, human rights abuses and violation of the group’s democratic values.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was re-elected for his final term, has been struggling to sanitise the discredited polls that have for the first time been rejected by the Southern Africa Development Community Observer Mission (SEOM). In the past, the southern African regional bloc has maintained a soft stance towards Zanu PF’s electoral fraud.
In its preliminary report, the SEOM said the country failed to meet local and international principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.
The Commonwealth observer mission has also highlighted intimidation, lack of independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and an uneven campaign field as key factors likely to have undermined the credibility of the 2023 electoral process.
This week, in the House of Lords, British parliamentarians debated a motion raised by non-affiliated member Baroness Kate Hoey on the United Kingdom government’s assessment of Zimbabwe’s general election.
“My Lords, the United Kingdom commends the Zimbabwean voters for their peaceful participation in Zimbabwe’s recent elections. However, the UK shares the view expressed in international election observation mission preliminary statements that the pre-election period and election day fell short of regional and international standards,” Hoey said.
“The UK is also concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the compiling of results by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the severe disruption of domestic observation. My Lords, it was obvious to every independent observer that those elections were not free and fair. In the words of Nelson Chamisa himself, they were a ‘blatant and gigantic fraud’, but the hard-hitting Sadc report questioned the credibility of the elections and the breaches of its own standards.”
She also expressed concern over the further shrinking of civic space in the post-election period.
“The saddest thing is that, as the election observers left, the familiar pattern of widespread arrests, abductions and torture of grassroots supporters of the opposition is taking place as we speak all over the country. There were even lawyers arrested last night in a hospital where they were representing torture victims—the same kind of retribution that Mugabe did after 2008.
“Does the noble Lord agree that now is the time for full support by His Majesty’s Government for Sadc’s efforts to resolve the crisis, and in particular for our newly arrived ambassador to re-evaluate all facets of our relationship with a Zimbabwean Government who flout their own laws through acts of violence and torture, and to give some hope even in the darkest days to the perseverance and courage of the Zimbabwean people?” she asked.
In response, Lord Guilford of the Conservative Party suggested that the UK takes a lenient stance towards Zimbabwe as it will be important in helping fight off dominance of Africa by the Chinese and the Russians.
However, another Conservative member, Lord Wimbledon, said the UK must review its relationship with the Zimbabwean government.
Another member, Lord Kingsmill, who was also part of the observer mission to Zimbabwe, said Harare has failed to implement reforms which were laid out by the observer mission to the 2018 general election.
“My Lords, I have just returned from Zimbabwe. I was a member of the Commonwealth observer group, and we did an extensive report, the interim statement of which members can find in the Library.
“A lot of factors, many of which were also raised in 2018, led us to doubt the credibility of this election. Will the minister agree that the ideal would be for Zimbabwe to re-enter the Commonwealth, but it can do so only when it meets the standards of proper democracy, the rule of law and free elections?”
Zimbabwe’s re-engagement has also been predicted to be bumpy by UK-based think-tank Africa Risk Consulting (ARS).
“The disputed election could also have an impact on Mnangagwa’s agenda to re-engage with Western and multilateral institutions who have imposed a pre-condition that Zimbabwe holds a credible election before talks can progress.
“In fact, on 1 September, United Kingdom’s (UK) development and Africa minister Andrew Mitchell noted that the UK shares the view with other electoral observer missions that Zimbabwe’s pre-election and election day fell short of regional and international standards.”