… But what next after this?
ZIMBABWEAN President-Elect Emmerson Mnangagwa last night stormed back to office after crudely leveraging the power of incumbency to remain at the helm as his bitter rival, main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa, emphatically rejected the disputed results amid protests of irregularities and brazen fraud.
The evidence is overwhelming: The elections were characterised by electoral illegalities, manipulation of the process, illegal interference by a shadowy intelligence structure, voter suppression on a massive scale, banning of rallies, intimidation and jailing of political opponents.
There was also deportation of researchers, restriction of civil and political liberties, arrest of independent electoral monitors who usually provide alternative voter collation, voting trends and returns to shadow the official process.
The run-up to the polls was also marred by endless fights over voter registration and inspection, delimitation of boundaries, nomination of candidates, the voters’ roll, polling stations, postal voting process, lack of transparency in the procurement process, botched delivery of voting materials on time, including ballot papers, and disruption of monitors.
Some voters waited until polling stations closed at 7pm — having arrived before 7am, for instance in Warren Park, Budiriro and Glen View in Harare. Yet others had to wait for 24 hours in those areas to vote. In the process, thousands left in frustration without voting as voter suppression and disenfranchisement took hold.
In all this fiasco, the courts and judiciary evidently took sides with the executive, while due process and justice suffered. The case of the disqualification of independent candidate Saviour Kasukuwere by a judge at the behest of a Zanu PF activist — without due process — stands out.
The transmission, collation and verification of votes was done in haste — meaning an aberration on the process.
To make matters worse, the elections were run behind the scenes by an unconstitutional structure and the spooky Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO)-run unit Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) illegally using public resources. The CIO’s FAZ illegally seized control of the electoral process, taking over from the military’s Heritage Trust.
Previous elections were run by the army before FAZ. Mnangagwa’s controversial re-election — rejected by some foreign election observers, including those from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) from neighbouring countries — leaves Zimbabwe wallowing in the throes of a renewed crisis of legitimacy and economic failure.
Elections are pivotal in Zimbabwe’s democratisation, yet they have been key to its backsliding under the leadership of Mnangagwa, who first came to power through a coup which ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), claiming with a straight face to be independent, open, transparent, competent and to have integrity, declared Mnangagwa the winner with 2 357 711 votes — 52.6% of the vote. Chamisa got 1 967 343 voters; 44% of the vote.
There were 6 619 691 registered voters. Of these, 2 062 290 did not vote. So total votes cast were 4 561 221.
Voter turnout was thus 68.9% Chamisa’s party swiftly rejected the outcome. It said the election were “marred by voter suppression” and “egregious abuse” amid discrepancies which have become glaringly apparent.
CCC spokesperson Promise Mkhwananzi said: “The outcome did not align with the evidence from our V11s, a stark deviation that underscores the need for scrutiny. The concerning absence of our presidential candidate’s election agent’s signature casts a shadow of doubt over the entire process”. Chamisa described the elections as a “blatant” and “gigantic fraud”.
Local publisher Professor Ibbo Mandaza said: “A most depressing, if not cynical, feature about elections in Zimbabwe is the extent to which they are so brazenly stolen and voters rendered mere statistics.”
The opposition also said some of the problems were highlighted by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) electoral observer mission which was headed by former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba.
“In conclusion, the mission observed that the pre-election and voting phases, on 23-24 August 2023 harmonised elections were peaceful, and calm,” Sadc said.
“However, for reasons outlined above, the mission noted that some aspects of the harmonised elections, fell short of the requirements of the constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021).”
While celebrating the victory, Mnangagwa’s government has reacted with anger to the Sadc report, but the regional body is pushing back and standing firm, showing growing frustration over the protracted Zimbabwe situation.
Mnangagwa — always at the centre of election rigging even during the Mugabe’s era — is keen to set the narrative through the media and arrange inauguration. He wants to back in the driving seat quickly, and attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next month.
Vote-rigging has now become art form in Zimbabwe, but it always leaves the country worse off as a pariah state, with people languishing in the economic doldrums and social decay. Analysts say with Mnangagwa’s re-election, the economy and other things are likely to go south.
They fear rapid macro-economic deterioration and the intertwined web of currency volatility, exchange instability and inflation worsening due to lack of confidence and uncertainty.
Professor Gift Mugano said during the elctions Zanu PF is impervious to policy advice and nothing will change under Mnangagwa’s leadership.
On Zimbabwe’s internationl re-engagement, Stephen Chan, a British professor of world politics familiar with Zimbabwe, having been involved in its affairs since his days working at the Commonwealth in the 1980s, says he sees no policy shift from the United States after these sham elections, which means targeted economic and financial restrictions are remaining. Chan, who was part of the Commonwealth election observer mission in 1980, was deported from Zimbabwe last week before the elections.
Besides the series of illegalities, disenfranchisement, voter suppression, chaos and manipulation, there was jailing of opposition activists like Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume. Intimidation and coercion were rife.
Brutality and violence were relatively low — hence the observers saying the elections were “calm” and “peaceful”, but still there. An opposition activist Tinashe Chitsunge, for instance, was killed by Zanu PF supporters.
In every major election in Zimbabwe, someone has to die. In the past, hundreds would die during elections when they tried to express themselves.
While the 1985 elections were the most violent since independence, the just-ended polls were the most shambolic.
Apart from the irregularities, Mnangagwa and Zanu PF enjoyed structural advantages in their re-election campaign — control of the playing field — or communication through the state-owned media — experience and skill, traditional support base and recognition.
Siphosami Malunga, Director of Programmes at Open Society-Africa, warned that elections were not going to resolve Zimbabwe’s political legitimacy crisis.
He said the country was being rundown by a parasitic political elite which has long abandoned the national interest and concept of public service for self-aggrandisement, and that cabal must be stopped.
Ritualistic elections like the ones Zimbabwe are instruments of authoritarian rule, and thus give incumbents considerable power and tools to hollow out the democratic substance of electoral contestation to remain in power.
The opposition was not allowed to organise and campaign freely as incumbency is turned into hegemony.
The Africa Union-Comesa observer mission headed by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan was more diplomatic than the others, but still noted the logistical nightmares of the elections.
It said: “The AU-Comesa (election observer mission) observed that the 2023 harmonised elections were conducted, up to the counting process, in a generally peaceful and transparent manner despite logistical challenges with the availability and distribution of local authority ballot papers in some areas. The mission continues to observe the tallying process and will issue a comprehensive report within two months.”
The Commonwealth team, led by Amina Chawahir Mohamed, former Cabinet Secretary for Education and Foreign Affairs of Kenya, said the challenges which characterised the elections compromised the “credibility, transparency and inclusivity.
“In conclusion, our overall assessment of the voting process is that it was well conducted and peaceful. However, there exist a number of significant issues that impact on the credibility, transparency and inclusivity of the process,” it said.
In a book titled How to Rig an Election, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas provide penetrating analysis of pseudo-democratic methods by competitive authoritarian regimes around the world to retain control.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, authoritarian leaders who agree to hold elections are generally able to remain in power longer than autocrats who refuse to allow the populace to vote.
In their engaging and provocative book, Cheeseman and Klaas expose the limitations of national elections as a means of promoting democratisation, and reveal six essential strategies that dictators use to undermine the electoral process in order to guarantee victory for themselves.
Based on their first-hand experiences as election watchers and their hundreds of interviews with presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, election officials, and conspirators, Cheeseman and Klaas document instances of election rigging from Argentina to Zimbabwe, including notable examples from Brazil, India, Nigeria, Russia, and the United States — touching on the 2016 election.
The eye-opening study on election rigging taxonomy offers a sobering overview of corrupted professional politics, while providing fertile intellectual ground for the development of new solutions for protecting democracy from authoritarian subversion.
In an article titled Democracy in Name Only for Africa, written about a week before Zimbabwe’s elections, Michelle Gavin and Alexandra Drent, say decades after multiparty democracy in Africa, many on the continent still face sham elections, restrictions of rights, and few improvements.
“Democracy is in trouble in Africa. It’s not just the latest coup d’état in Niger, completing the belt of military governments stretching across the continent. It’s also an overall sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment, and a fundamental problem of governance quality,” the article says.
“The problems for champions of democracy run deep. The very meaning of the term has been called into question for too many populations who have experienced plenty of elections, but little in the way of real political choice or accountability.
“This month alone, Gabon and Zimbabwe are likely to provide new fodder for democracy cynics. In Gabon, citizens will go to the polls in a process almost certain to provide another mandate for the Bongo dynasty, which has remained in control of the country for over half a century.
“A compressed electoral timetable and move to single-round voting, combined with a long history of dividing and co-opting the opposition, leaves little room for doubt about the outcome.
“In Zimbabwe, the electoral commission’s shenanigans and heavy-handed treatment of opposition candidates and supporters do not inspire confidence in the process to come. From faux-civil society organisations intimidating communities to ensure the ruling party retains power “in perpetuity” to cases before the deeply compromised judiciary aimed at undercutting challenges to the status quo, the pre-election climate is ludicrously unbalanced.”
Mnangagwa and his supporters have been congratulating each other over their victory in a charade secured by fair means or foul, but the country and democracy are the biggest losers in their win.
Jonathan Moyo, a professor of politics and former minister, says Chamisa performed poorly, since he won three out of 10 provinces.
“Chamisa won only three out of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces: Bulawayo, Harare and Matabeleland North. Effectively, and so to speak, Chamisa lost in all of Mashonaland’s provinces, winning there only in metropolitan Harare. Notably, Chamisa did not win Masvingo, his home province. In Matabeleland provinces, Chamisa won metropolitan Bulawayo and Matabeleland North; while Matabeleland South voted in step with the rest of the country. This is the worst national performance by an MDC/CCC opposition presidential candidate since the formation of the MDC in 1999. Chamisa’s poor national performance should give voters in Matabeleland provinces food for thought after they woke up this morning to the hard realisation that the region’s vote is out of step with the voting of the rest of the country.”
However, former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara said Chamisa, whom he describes as the leader of the only bona fide opposition party in Zimbabwe, fought a great fight.
“Here we go again. The cycle of disputed elections continues. We must come together as a nation and cure this cancer. We must devise a way to conduct free, fair and credible elections,” Mutambara said.
“Respect must go to President Chamisa and the CCC for fighting a great fight — Against all odds.” Prominent South African-based local researcher Phillan Zamchiya said Chamisa and CCC have six dominant options going forward.
“These include: (1) boycotting parliament; (2) peaceful mass action; (3) seeking legal recourse; (4) an internal political settlement (a handshake); (5) Seeking an urgent Sadc intervention and or (6) After Action Review (self-introspection),” he said.
“Whilst these might appear different blocks on paper, in practice they work in combination to varying degrees.”