AS Zimbabwe sleepwalks into yet another sham election, amid the brazen subversion of citizens’ constitutional right to vote for representatives of their choice, the 23 August polls are already irretrievably flawed and discredited, analysts have warned.
The country is headed for a major constitutional crisis, with multi-party democracy now on trial.
There is a real danger that a free, fair and credible election — as defined by the free expression of the will of people — is increasingly impossible, in view of a volatile confluence of unprecedented legal, constitutional and political factors which have reduced the poll to a farce.
The disqualification of 12 opposition CCC parliamentary candidates in Bulawayo and independent presidential candidate Saviour Kasukuwere from the general elections by the increasingly politicised and captured courts reflects the country’s high water mark of partisan judicialisation of politics.
It also proves the consolidation of juristocracy in service of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu PF’s renewed and intensifying authoritarian rule, which has lasted 43 years so far.
Zanu PF, which always wins elections by fair means or foul, got into power in 1980, first under the late former president Robert Mugabe who ruled for 37 years before he was ousted in a November 2017 military coup by Mnangagwa and the army.
The party uses a carrot-and-stick approach to mobilise voters — entreating, vote-buying, coercing, intimidating and even killing —to win elections.
Now the judiciary is firmly part of its survival political strategy.
As a result, Mnangagwa in 2021 extended the tenure of Chief Justice Luke Malaba by five years following contentious changes to the constitution that allowed for the controversial extension.
Questions around the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s capacity to run credible elections are coming thick and fast.
Zec’s already threadbare credibility has been torn to shreds, following the disqualification of the 12 CCC parliamentary candidates in Bulawayo.
The election management body is a Chapter 12 institution which should discharge its functions independently and impartially in line with the constitution.
Zec has breached its own electoral cycle calendar by failing to print and dispatch ballot papers for postal voting to constituencies at least 30 days before 23 August as prescribed by the Electoral Act.
The breach of the Electoral Act by Zec through the failure to dispatch postal ballot papers at least 30 days before polling day has the effect of disenfranchising voters who may not have the election materials on time in some remote areas.
The tsunami of lawsuits engulfing the electoral process has heightened political temperatures.
In the declaration of rights, the constitution stipulates that “every
Zimbabwean citizen shall have the right to free, fair and regular elections”.
Chapter 1 of Zimbabwe’s constitution — which outlines the republic’s founding values and principles — enunciates the imperatives of good governance which bind the state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level.
The principles include: a multi-party democratic political system; an electoral system based on: universal adult suffrage and equality of votes; free, fair and regular elections; and adequate representation of the electorate.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has already revealed that Zec cannot print ballot papers before the finalisation of election-related court cases, in apparent reference to the matter involving Saviour Kasukuwere.
Kasukuwere, who was disqualified by the High Court from running for president, lost his Supreme Court appeal on Thursday. He has now vowed to take his case to the Costitutional Court.
In a case that has brought the judiciary’s role in these elections into sharper focus, Supreme Court judges ruled this week that the appeal filed by the former Zanu PF political commissar “lacked merit”.
“We carefully considered the evidence and oral submissions by both counsels. Court is of view the appeal lacks merit. Appeal be and is hereby dismissed,” reads the court ruling in part.
Addressing a Press conference in Harare on Friday, Kasukuwere’s chief elections agent, Jacqueline Sande, insisted the former cabinet minister will be appealing at the Constitutional Court.
“It is a sad day for Zimbabwe. The Supreme Court, without giving reasons for its judgment, ruled that our case is dimissed on merits, implying that Zec can now enforce the High Court ruling barring our client Kasukuwere from contesting in the elections.
“However, we have taken a decision to appeal against the ruling at the Constitutional Court. The country is now going into a constitutional crisis and we will be challenging Zec on why it has not printed ballot papers when there was no court order banning them from doing that.
“Zec is now in breach of the electoral cycle calendar and we will be challenging them as well at the Constitutional Court,” she said.
During the same Press conference, Kasukuwere’s campaign team member and former Zanu PF youth leader Jim Kunaka said they are now preparing a political response to the latest developments.
“Mnangagwa cannot choose his opponents on elections . . . We are politicians and we will be taking a political route. Our knuckles are itching for a fight.
“We will mobilise our members from the 10 provinces to demonstrate against Mnangagwa.
That small boy Lovedale [Mangwana] who went to the court against Kasukuwere was just acting on behalf of Mnangagwa. If you are saying Kasukuwere has no people, why then are you barring him from elections? This country does not belong to Mnangagwa alone. It belongs to all of us,” said Kunaka.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure told The NewsHawks that in the case of Bulawayo where 12 CCC parliamentary candidates were barred from contesting, there are two likely scenarios.
“There are two possible scenarios in Bulawayo. First is that there will be a historically low turnout as voters find no incentive to vote in a choiceless parliamentary election, in which case Zanu PF will register a resounding victory in the province.
“However, if voters’ disenchantment extends to the presidential election, this will also undermine Chamisa’s performance in that election and diminish his chances of winning.
“This is because in the presidential election, the whole country is one constituency. The second scenario is whereby CCC will urge its supporters to vote for any of the selected opposition candidates in the constituencies if only to prevent Zanu PF from winning. I speculate that this is the most probable scenario,” he said.
Masunungure added: “It’s a sad day and sad week for competitive electoral politics in Zimbabwe. In the absence of complete information regarding the 17 CCC double candidates, we can only surmise that the Electoral Court was guided by the facts presented to them and not swayed by partisan and other parochial considerations.
“There appears to be a fuller set of information on the ‘Bulawayo 12’ whose disqualification was a culmination of paying cursory attention to elementary organisational rules and procedures that were apparently shrouded by ‘strategic ambiguity’. I think the lesson here is not to be too experimental with organisational models too close to a high-stakes election.”
On Kasukuwere, Masunungure said it is not clear whether the court did not exercise judicial overreach by striking him off the voters’ roll without due process such as activating the legal and administrative proceduress for removing a voter from the roll.
“The critical question is: How will Kasukuwere’s core and other supporters vote come 23 August 2023? Will they do so for the Zanu PF leader who is the source of their distress? Or, will they rather throw their vote behind Mnangagwa’s nemesis, Nelson Chamisa, hence significantly boosting the latter’s electoral chances? Or, will they abstain in what to them is a ‘choiceless election’? Let’s wait and see,” he said.
Academic, publisher and political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said there is now need for inclusive negotiations towards a National Transional Authority (NTA).
“We have always said that the Zimbabwe crisis defies an electoral solution. In such circumstances as are attendant to the electoral process so far, isn’t the NTA the only agency towards a comprehensive political and economic settlement in Zimbabwe?” Mandaza asked in an interview with The NewsHawks on Thursday.
He added: “We cannot rule out the need for a negotiated settlement if we’re to avoid an acrimonious and even bloody end to this presidential campaign, the most desperate given a ruling party so afflicted by factionalism like never before the coup in 2017. Asylum beckons for some.”
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at London Univesity’s School of Oriental and African Studies, predicted voter apathy.
“If the appeals are not upheld, it will — in the minds of many prospective voters — call into question the integrity of an election that is skewed before a single vote has been cast. It may lead to a low turnout on polling day,” he said.
Chan highlighted that democracy in Zimbabwe is already at stake, given the prevailing situation which could result in a hung parliament.
“It means that before a single vote is actually cast in the elections, Zanu PF may well have secured a parliamentary majority. It raises the real possibility in a tight election of a Chamisa presidency and a Zanu PF Parliament,” he said.
Vivid Gwede, a Harare-based political analyst, pointed out that the role of the courts in this election has badly affected democracy.
“The courts are becoming a factor in this election. Unfortunately, all the decisions so far seem to go one way in favour of the ruling party, whose attempts to capture the courts have been topical since amending the constitution to extend the tenure of the Chief Justice.
“Given how the courts will remain central is settling electoral disputes and how there will likely be further litigation in this election, this does not inspire confidence,” he said.
He disagreed with the assertion that an election boycott by the CCC would be the best way forward, saying such a move would only play into Zanu PF’s hands.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu also warned against boycotting the elections.
“Exposing these malpractices is a contribution to improving future elections and pushing back against Zanu PF’s abuse of the political space,” he said.