Beyond Free and Fair: Will the Zimbabwe election provide a platform for deeper regional transformation?

Executive Summary

There is little doubt that several factors are having a significant effect on the 2018 electoral context. These include the open political climate that allows all parties to campaign, the level of scrutiny from internal and external observer missions, and the pressure to project an image that breaks with the past and prepares the way for investment.

In many respects the 2018 election environment appears be more free and fair than any election that has come before it. But this appearance might also still be revealed as a shallow cover up of deeper electoral concerns. The gradual heightening of tensions as the election approaches, and the multiple local incidents of intimidation and violence, create a climate that is volatile and unpredictable. These tensions appear to be coming to a head around the opposition confrontation of the ZEC. The situation is dynamic, and needs to be closely monitored.

As tensions escalate, as they inevitably will as the election approaches, a closer engagement by observers and the media, particularly with constituencies identified as potential hotspots, will be essential. The more confrontational language used at rallies, and in the engagement between the opposition MDC Alliance and the ZEC, are the early warning signs of the flames of violence that could so easily be sparked.

The state of the economy, and the challenges involved in making a daily living, remain the most important concern of most Zimbabweans. The election hardly touches on this reality, beyond the rhetoric of policy manifestoes and political slogans. While public debt and unemployment scar the macro-economic picture the daily search for cash and opportunity are the norm at micro level. People are struggling, and there is no respite on the immediate horizon. Whatever the election outcome.

The militarisation of ZEC undermines the credibility of the election not least because of the role that the military has played in the body politic of Zimbabwe since independence. An electoral commission run by the military, that includes people directly involved in endorsing the 2008 election outcome, cannot claim the impartiality and non-partisanship so essential in an election process.

The SADC Treaty, in Article 5, commits the Member States to “promote common political values, systems and other shared values which are transmitted through institutions, which are democratic, legitimate and effective”. The ZSF is concerned that Zimbabwe is in danger of violating this collective agreement, a bedrock of regional cooperation.

The Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum ZSF wishes the people of Zimbabwe well in the coming elections. The solidarity movement is cognisant of the democratic challenges that have dogged Zimbabwe in the past. The violent and disputed election of 2008 and the questions related to the integrity of the 2013 process have left Zimbabwe with a democratic deficit. Efforts to break from this tainted past must be applauded.

The ZSF urges the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Zimbabwe government, and all political parties to make every effort to minimise the chances of a disputed election.

We further urge all parties in Zimbabwe to remain committed to peace and demonstrate zero tolerance to violence, including all forms of violence against women. But a violence free electoral process will not go far enough. The Zimbabwean people have an opportunity in this year’s election to make a clean break from the past and use the elections to confer legitimacy on the leadership that will drive the big task of rebuilding Zimbabwe.

ZEC’s independence must be guaranteed by the government. The solidarity movement believes that the Zimbabwean government, the people of Zimbabwe, the SADC Organ on Politics Defence and Security Cooperation and the SADC Electoral Advisory Council have a shared responsibility to ensure that this election advances the regional democratic agenda and provides a solid platform for a political and economic renewal. Ensuring ZEC is empowered, independent and credible in the eyes of all contesting parties will go a long way in this regard.

If there is a genuine commitment to a free, fair and credible election ZEC must investigate and report back on the veracity of reports of deployment of the army in many constituencies across the country.

Furthermore the Zimbabwean government and the Presidency must unequivocally draw the lines between civilian and military functions and immediately return all military personnel to the barracks. The police and military must refrain from using the secrecy of the postal voting system to force personnel to vote for parties which may not be of their own choosing.

The legitimacy and integrity of ZEC is also dependent on the level of transparency it demonstrates around the election management process. We call on ZEC to take all the steps necessary to address these issues. ZEC must realise that the future of the country rests on their shoulders. Individual members of ZEC must serve with distinction and pride. If they cannot then they should resign. This is the time for committed Zimbabweans to stay true to the principles and values of democracy.

The Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum calls on SADC, particularly the Electoral Advisory Council, to support the people of Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair, transparent, credible and peaceful democratic election on the 30th of July 2018.

We are hopeful that the regional body, the Zimbabwean people and the international community will do all they can to ensure an uncontested election result. The time for the renewal and recovery of Zimbabwe is surely now. This election is pivotal in determining Zimbabwe’s future direction.

Source: Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum

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