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chigumba ZEC Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
File pic: Priscilla Chigumba, ZEC Chairperson during the 2018 elections


Polls: Faz runs the show



AS Zimbabweans brace for the crucial general elections on Wednesday, the integrity and credibility of the polls have been cast in doubt due to the underhand and unconstitutional involvement in the electoral process of state security agency Central Intelligence Organisation’s shadowy unit Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz).


The situation is exacerbated by the weaponisation of law (lawfare) to clampdown on the opposition and democracy defenders in the countdown to the elections, as well as capture of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and state-controlled media.

This is contained in new research by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) which poles holes into the integrity of the polls, saying the run-up to polling has been dominated by electoral manipulation activities.

In its latest report, titled Zimbabwe’s 2023 Elections, Faz, Lawfare and the Menu of Political Manipulation, the ZDI says the deployment of Faz into the electoral arena forms the centrepiece of Zanu PF’s 2023 menu of electoral manipulation.

“The main finding of the study is that the 2023 election is dominated by electoral manipulation activities of Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF)’s quasi-military organisation called the Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) and weaponisation of law (lawfare) to clampdown on the opposition and democracy defenders,” the report says.

The ZDI researches, publishes and conducts national policy debates and conferences in democratisation, good governance, public policy, human rights and transitional justice, media and democracy relations, electoral politics and international affairs.

In the new study, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is described as a competitive authoritarian regime which combines democratic institutions and practices with authoritarian features such as electoral manipulation, media bias, state repression and legal harassment of opponents with the view to maintain the power of the incumbent, while undermining rivals.

It says one of the ways that incumbents in competitive authoritarian regimes use their advantage over their rivals is by deploying the security apparatus and lawfare in the electoral arena.

The ZDI report says the majority of citizens who participated in the research said that the current electoral environment can best be described as intimidating, adding that following the proclamation of the election date by Mnangagwa on 29 May 2023, the electoral environment was characterised by cases of wanton arrests of opposition members and barring of opposition campaign rallies.

The report interrogates the state of the political environment following the deployment of Faz in the electoral field, saying the CIO-run group forms part of Mnangagwa’s infrastructure for coercion of political rivals.

“For research participants in Mwenezi, Magunje and Mt Darwin, there was a general consensus that Faz has been deployed in their communities with an objective of spying on opposition supporters’ political activities ahead of the August 2023 elections. This has created a climate of fear among opposition supporters and members, thereby deterring and discouraging them from engaging in political activities,” the report says.

 Faz’s deployment came to light during the Zanu PF primary elections in preparation for the elections.

The quasi-securocratic body is composed of CIO, Zimbabwe National Army, war veterans, Zanu PF youth militia and vigilante group elements.

 Its prowess as a Zanu PF electoral manipulation machine was pilot-tested the party’s March primary elections where it was accused of presiding over massive rigging that saw many senior officials losing elections. Faz is led by the CIO deputy director-general retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi.

It has replaced the military-led Heritage Trust which was the securocrats’ shadowy arm in charge of running the 2018 election in which Mnangagwa scraped through by a wafer-thin margin.

The ZDI says the 2023 elections are best understood through the lenses of a competitive authoritarian regime which deploys lawfare, the state security apparatus and electoral manipulation at key zones of contestation — the judiciary, the legislature, the media and electoral arena to buttress regime longevity and thwart electoral defeat.

The study says four arenas of contestation form critical observation and assessment areas for election observers, monitors, and interested parties.

 “However, the specific focus of this study is mainly on the essence of deployment of the state security apparatus under Faz and lawfare against democratic forces, particularly in the opposition and civil society in the arenas of contestation during the electoral process. The chapter, thus, presents the research problem of the study, research objectives, questions and research methods used in the study,” it says.

 The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and state-controlled media have been key targets of deployment of the state security apparatus to coerce the political opponents of Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party, the report adds.

“Three observable facts justify this claim. First, the Zanu PF government has populated Zec with relatives, allies and sympathisers of the top leadership of Zanu PF,” reads the report.

“Second, the secretariat of Zec has a huge number of retired members from the military, including the chief elections officer Major Utloile Silaigwana, when the alliance between Zanu PF and the military is a public secret.

 “Thirdly, the Zanu PF party has deployed a quasi-military NGO Faz to infiltrate Zec, interfere with administration of elections and disperse manipulation and intimidation across the rural areas on behalf of Zanu PF.”

The report says the Zanu PF government relied more on deployment of lawfare to coerce political rivals and maintain an uneven electoral environment ahead of the elections.

 It cites four key lawfare strategies, saying the first approach used by the Zanu PF government is the use of various legal instruments to restrict the activities and funding of civil society organisations, which play a vital role in promoting democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.

Secondly, lawfare has manifested in the form of abuse of power to arrest, detain, and prosecute opposition leaders and activists on trumped-up charges, often denying them bail or fair trial. The majority of research participants noted that there is selective application of law.

 Thirdly, lawfare has been used to undermine the independence of the judiciary and other constitutional commissions, such as Zec, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. Lastly, lawfare has been used to eliminate formidable electoral competitors from the ballot paper and persecute opposition candidates using the court as a weapon of political harassment, suppression and campaign disturbance.

The ZDI says lawfare and the state security apparatus have been deployed in arenas of political contestation, adding that competitive authoritarian regimes target, capture and/or manipulate four arenas of contestation key to the conduct of free, fair and democratic elections, namely the judiciary, the legislature, the media and electoral management bodies.

“First arena of contestation is the judiciary because it can adjudicate electoral disputes, protect civil and political rights, and check executive power,” the report notes.

“However, competitive authoritarian regimes often use lawfare and the security apparatus to undermine the independence and credibility of the judiciary.”

 It says the second arena of contestation is the legislature because it enacts laws, oversees the executive and represents the interests of the people, adding that competitive authoritarian regimes often use lawfare and the security apparatus to manipulate the composition and functioning of the legislature.

The ZDI report says the third arena of contestation is the media as it informs the public, shapes public opinion and exposes corruption and abuse.

“However, competitive authoritarian regimes often use lawfare and security apparatus to control and censor the media,” it said.

The fourth arena of contestation targeted through lawfare and security apparatus are electoral management bodies (EMBs).

 “The EMBs are essential for ensuring free and fair elections. Competitive authoritarian regimes often use lawfare and security apparatus to influence the appointment and operation of these bodies,” the report notes.

A lady who picked a call at Impala said she could not comment on the issue but promised to forward the inquiry to the public relations department.

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