PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is abusing state institutions, including the military, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and judiciary, to maintain his tight grip on power ahead of the 2023 elections and action must be immediately taken to stop the abuse and clear the way for credible elections, a local think-tank says.
In a recent report titled Deterrence of the Zambian Precedent in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) says a lot needs to be done to ensure there is a smooth transfer of power if the opposition wins local elections.
Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) emerged victorious in last year’s polls, defeating the Patriotic Front led by Edgar Lungu in what was celebrated by the Zimbabwean opposition as a victory for democracy that should inspire them to win against Zanu PF.
But Mnangagwa has vowed that “another Zambia” will not happen in Zimbabwe in what observers said was a threat to subvert the ballot using state institutions.
The report said the grip on Zimbabwe’s politics by the military and its control in various key institutions was a threat to the transfer of power.
“Military elite is the decisive power bloc affecting Zanu PF decision-making directly while affecting state institutions directly or indirectly via Zanu PF as its medium,” the report reads in part.
The report says the military capture of the party that began at what became known as the Mgagao Declaration in 1975 has been perpetuated and now extends to key institutions to give the ruling party an unfair advantage ahead of the 2023 polls.
“One key narrative is that top Zanu PF leadership positions are filled by retired members of the security apparatus and this legacy has been preserved from (the late former President Robert) Mugabe to the Mnangagwa regime,” the report reads.
“This has enabled the military to be directly involved in Zanu PF political activities. Second is the narrative that security forces and Zanu PF are Siamese twins operating through an injure one injure all modus vivendi.
“The military elite controls the electoral and transition politics using either the indirect route, using Zanu PF and retired components, or directly through hands-on military operations.
“The Joint Operations Command (Joc), a military elite structure combining heads of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the Air Force, and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has been depicted as the apex decision-making body in Zimbabwe that steers the electoral and transition politics in Zanu PF and government.’’
In the run-up to the 26 March by-election, the report said, the police, under the instruction of Zanu PF elites, blocked opposition rallies, tortured opposition supporters and “weaponised” Covid-19 regulations to disrupt opposition activities.
“Another strategy has been the use of military deterrence measures to encourage self-censorship and fearful voters. Such military deterrence strategies include declarations by the military elite reiterating that Zimbabwe is a military state and that Zec is indeed militarised.”
Such declarations, the report said, were intended to make prospective opposition voters fearful and desist from political participation.
“Moreover, key democracy consolidation institutions such as the legislature, the judiciary, state media, and Zec have been manipulated to restore and preserve the interests of the ruling military elite,” the ZDI says.
“In the post-2023 election cycle, Zec has been involved in the manipulation of the voters’ roll, gerrymandering the process of voter registration process, and militarisation of the secretariat. This election chicanery cannot be underestimated.
“The manipulation of the voters’ roll creates an opportunity for ghost voters for the ruling party, particularly in constituencies where it has lost popular support. The gerrymandering experienced in the voter registration process seeks to disenfranchise citizens in opposition strongholds and/or shrink a total number of registered electorates in the opposition
stronghold while increasing the opportunity to register more electorates in Zanu PF stronghold constituencies.
‘’The militarisation of Zec secretariat has been admitted by the Zec noting that such conduct is legally and morally permissible. However, the symbiotic relationship between the security sector and Zanu PF makes such militarisation a derogation of Zec’s independence. The free and fair conduct of members of the security sector once appointed and/or employed by Zec is unimaginable,’’ added the report.
The ZDI says the judiciary is captured.
This, the organisation says, had become a public secret following President Mnangagwa’s ascendancy in November 2017.
“The capture is evident in five different approaches targeting the composition, conduct, and alignment of the judiciary: the amendment of the constitution to give President Mnangagwa powers to make or unmake judges and subsequent co-optation actions towards the Chief Justice, the inertia and/or conniving attitude of the judiciary when a violation of the constitution is done by Zanu PF/ military elite, Zanu PF government’s public statements coercing judges to give judgements in their favour, issuance of divisive judgements on internal fights within the opposition whose end give Zanu PF political advantage and the chief justice’s authoritarian capture tendencies towards other judges. Read together, these five corroborate the assertion that the judiciary has been captured.’’