This paper unpacks the menu of electoral manipulation rolled attendant to the Zimbabwe’s 26 March 2022 by- election. Zimbabwe prepares holds by-elections on 26 March 2022 to fill the 28 parliamentary and 105 council seats which fell vacant due to recalls and deaths. In this milieu, ZEC has been placed at the epicenter of the electoral manipulation machinery through (i) creating uncertainty in voter registration, (ii) gerrymandering in voter registration centre allocation, (iii) manipulation of the voters roll and (iv) militarisation. As elaborated in this paper, these electoral manipulation practices are calculated to reduce prospective opposition votes. Political violence targeting the opposition has been used as an additional strategy to dissuade opposition mobilization.
The paper critically illustrates how political violence has been deployed for this purpose. In addition, the paper interrogates the Mnangagwa regime’s captured of four main zones of contestation and how they are manipulated to advantage the ruling ZANU-PF party. The zones of contestation examined are (i) the judiciary, (ii) media, (iii) executive and (iv) the electoral field. The paper argues that the electoral chicanery observed in the 26 March 2022 by-election’s electoral environment is a microcosm of the 2023 harmonised election.
The paper also posits that the observed electoral chicanery and violence is taking place in the context of a securocratic state problem. This problem came as a result of the open interference of the security sector/military in the country’s political affairs evident in role of the military in the 2000, 2002, 2008 as well as the 2018 elections. This intrusion of the security sector/military into the political and electoral affairs works to the advantage of ZANU-PF.
The role of ZEC in these by-elections vis-av-is the securocratic state problem in Zimbabwe should be understood in the auspices of the competitive authoritarian regimes conceptual framework associated with the studies of Levytsky and Way (2002). In their publication titled Elections without democracy: The rise of Competitive Authoritarian Regimes, Levytsky and Way (2002) state that competitive authoritarian regimes are characterised by the existence of formal democratic institutions which are considered as the principal means of obtaining and exercising political authority. However, there are deliberate attempts to undermine these institutions to such an extent that the incumbent regime fails to satisfy conventional minimum democratic standards.
In democracies unlike in competitive authoritarian regimes, four main criteria are met and these are (i) election of executives and legislators via open, free and fair elections, (ii) possession of the right to vote by all adults, (iii) promotion and protection of political rights, civil liberties, freedom of association, speech and press and (iv) the prevalence of real authority to govern that is free from military and/or clerical interference. This paper posits that in Zimbabwe, the violation of these democratic benchmarks is indisputable.
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