IT was bound to happen. Another Zimbabwean election, another disputed result. You do not need a PhD in constitutional law to admit that the 2023 general election was irretrievably flawed from the word go.
An election is not just what happens on voting day; it is not an event but a process. The entire chain — from delimitation to nomination to proclamation to polling to counting — every component matters. When one aspect is compromised or contaminated, the credibility of the whole election is brought to question.
Even the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), which usually sees no evil, speaks no evil and hears no evil when it comes to Zimbabwe’s perennially shambolic elections, was refreshingly forthright this time around. In an unprecedented development, the Sadc election observer mission said the election fell short of the requirements of the Zimbabwe constitution, the Electoral Act and the Sadc Principles and Guidelines on Democratic Elections.
Sadc has finally grown a spine — and what a breath of fresh air! We must remember that, contrary to the threadbare propaganda emanating from the Zimbabwean government and its apologists, the Sadc team is not the only observer mission which condemned the elections. Several other teams, including the European Union, African Union-Comesa and Carter Centre missions, also spelt out the glaring shortcomings of the polls.
Emmerson Mnangagwa’s international diplomatic re-engagement effort is now in tatters. As a direct result of this sham election, Zimbabwe’s pariah status is assured — with catastrophic consequences for the country’s long-suffering citizens.
The already troubled economy is headed for tougher times. Sadly, the biggest casualty will not be Mnangagwa but the masses of our people. Without political legitimacy, Mnangagwa will find it increasingly difficult to achieve sustainable economic stability.
Mnangagwa, whose default position is always to resort to threats, has not wasted time in stoking the flames of strife. Speaking on Thursday, Mnangagwa threatened a crackdown on his political opponents.
His crude threats were unbefitting of anyone claiming to be a leader. Mnangagwa needs to realise that legitimate power comes from the consent of the governed. Legitimacy does not come from the coercive state apparatus. In any case, we have seen soldiers in this election voting in large numbers for the opposition, which speaks volumes.
Mnangagwa’s threats are ominous. He has a history of masterminding unspeakable bloodshed — from Gukurahundi to the 2008 elections to 1 August 2018 to January 2019. “I warn anybody who may want to bring any chaos in this country we are ready,” he said during a ceremony to open a lithium plant.
“Whoever shall preach hate speech will be responsible for their hate speech, our prisons are not full.” Whenever he resorts to naked intimidation, he comes across as clueless, undemocratic and unwise. The post-election crisis calls for wisdom, not coercion and political terror.
The opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change has chosen not to petition the Constitutional Court in challenging the discredited election. The court of public opinion is divided as to whether going to court would have been the best course of action. Can the compromised courts be relied upon to adjudicate fairly, impartially and independently in the interests of justice? Time will tell, but past experience does not inspire confidence.
People often speak glibly about Zimbabwe’s sham elections. But the consequences of stolen elections have far-reaching implications for the country’s democracy, stability and development.
Bogus polls insidiously subvert and erode democratic principles. Without upholding the fundamental principles of liberty, such as free and fair elections, transparency, and respect for the will of the people, Zimbabwe cannot claim to be a constitutional democracy. This has directly led to a loss of faith in the electoral process and in public institutions.
Apart from fomenting political strife, stolen elections delegitimise the “elected” government, leading to a lack of public support and trust. Without a legitimate mandate, governance is a nightmare, and it becomes difficult to implement effective policies and reforms.
The most devastating impact is felt in the quality of life. The legitimacy crisis resulting from stolen elections negatively affects the economy. Investor confidence declines, leading to reduced foreign direct investment, job losses, slowed economic growth and general malaise.
As the fraught history of Zimbabwe’s elections has shown, there is no substitute for transparent and independent electoral institutions. However, the tragic reality is that Zanu PF itself is incapable of reform, therefore how can it be realistically expected to foster credible public institutions?
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, as a Chapter 12 institution, must be fair, impartial, competent and independent. Zec, as currently configured, has become a national embarassment and must be disbanded without delay.