By Martin Zhuwakinyu
Zimbabweans go to the polls within seven days, for the first time in yonks, the name of Robert Mugabe – who was deposed in November in an army-led operation that everyone seems to refuse to call a coup – will not be on the ballot paper.
The ‘secret’ to Mugabe’s political longevity was a combination of brutal repression of dissent, sometimes-not-so-subtle election rigging and connivance by the likes of the Pipe Smoking One (aka Thabo Mbeki), who, when Mugabe lost an election in 2008, used his clout to coerce the opposition into a governing coalition in which it was the junior partner.
But what chance is there that rigging, like the man across the Limpopo who perfected it into an art, now belongs in the dustbin of history?
This is one of the matters that came up for discussion at an event hosted recently by the Johannesburg-based South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). As a proud African who yearns for the day when words such as ‘sham’, ‘charade’ or ‘shenanigan’ are no longer synonymous with elections on the continent, I must say I did not like what I heard at SAIIA at all.
One of the speakers, Dr Showers Mawowa, deputy director of the Southern African Liaison Office, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote peace and security in the region, stated boldly that it was too late for the July 30 elections to be free and fair, if one took into account the legislative reforms and other measures that would need to be implemented.
The only realistic hope, he averred, was that the elections could still be credible, basing this optimism on the assumption that the Zanu-PF government, in its desperation to re-engage with the international community and thus attract foreign investment to revive the country’s moribund economy, would not commit overt infractions in the lead-up to and during polling day, as has been its wont in past elections.
Indeed, this time around, the opposition has not been barred from campaigning in rural areas – home to the majority of Zimbabwe’s voters – and there have been no reports of State-sponsored violence against those outside the ruling party fold.
What are the analysts saying?
But political scientist Dr Ibbo Mandaza, who heads up a Harare-based think-tank called the Southern African Political and Economic Series Trust, puts the absence of violence down to friction between pro- Mugabe elements in the military and those whose loyalty lies with the new order crippling the military’s effectiveness as a machinery of repression.
Mawowa opined that the international community had become weary about Zimbabwe and would likely consider mainly the very low bar of the absence of violence in pronouncing the elections credible or otherwise. Zanu-PF was very much aware of this, he contended, adding that its modus operandi would be confined to difficult-to- uncover shenanigans like administrative manipulations and getting the courts to do its bidding.
With respect to the latter, he pointed to a case where a faction that has been kicked out of the main opposition party entered candidates for the upcoming elections using the party’s name and symbols. A judge ruled that the matter was not urgent – notwithstanding the confusion this would cause among voters, a prospect that forced the party to enter the elections under the name of an alliance it has forged with other parties.
And who will emerge victorious: President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF, Nelson Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance or any of the other 21 contestants?
Well, some surveys have tipped Mnangagwa, but former academic Tony Reeler, who is now a co-convenor of the Platform for Concerned Citizens in Zimbabwe, is convinced there will be no outright winner on July 30, with the next State House occupier to be determined by a runoff election.
Should Chamisa’s MDC Alliance emerge victorious, we should not rule out the possibility of the Southern African Customs Union being expanded to include Zimbabwe and the Rand Monetary Union.
This course of action, according to the alliance’s Tendai Biti, a former Finance Minister, would be pursued, as it would, among other things, index the country’s cost structure to the rand.
He argued that Zimbabwe’s use of the US dollar put it at a disadvantage against neighbouring countries with weaker currencies.
Martin Zhuwakinyu is senior deputy editor of Mining Weekly at Creamer Media. This article was published in Mining Weekly.
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