PSC Interview: Little chance of a free and fair poll in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is heading for crucial elections in 2018 amid a growing economic crisis and fierce infighting in the ruling Zanu-PF. President Robert Mugabe (93) is eligible for re-election, but there are moves behind the scenes to determine his eventual successor.The PSC Report spoke to Derek Matyszak, Senior Research Consultant for the Institute for Security Studies in Zimbabwe, about the run-up to the polls.

At what stage are the preparations for the 2018 elections?

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is presently constructing an entirely new voters’ roll for the country, and says it will finish the process in January 2018. Nothing is being done, however, to align electoral laws with the new 2013 constitution, and there does not appear to be any political will to do so. There is a big difference between the preparations by the ruling Zanu-PF party for the polls and those of the myriad opposition parties. While Zanu-PF has already been campaigning – suggesting that it will use its parliamentary majority to call elections early – and distributing patronage to secure votes, the opposition parties, including the MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai, are still fumbling in their attempts to form a united front against Mugabe. They are beset with leadership problems and are totally unprepared.

Do Zimbabweans have the guarantee that it will be a free and fair poll?

There is no possibility of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe under current conditions. Zanu-PF controls all the key institutions of state, including those which are nominally independent. This control extends to the ZEC, the judiciary, the police, military, all electronic media broadcasters and local government. The last is particularly important, as Zanu-PF’s influence over traditional leaders helps to secure the rural vote, which constituted 70% of the voting population in the 2013 elections. All 226 traditional chiefs have recently been given an Isuzu twin cab vehicle by the Mugabe administration. The rural voters are more subjects than citizens and the traditional leadership makes it clear that voting against Mugabe and Zanu-PF has severe and adverse repercussions.

There is some dispute over the fairness of the 2013 elections. Some say Zanu-PF won hands down, but in a recent briefing you indicated that those elections were marred by irregularities. Why do you say that?

Most analyses of the 2013 elections acknowledge that extensive electoral fraud took place. The question is really whether the fraud turned a loss into a win, or a win into a landslide. Certainly, without the fraud Zanu-PF would not have secured its two-thirds majority in Parliament. There are two key numbers from the 2013 presidential election: one is that Tsvangirai’s vote remained largely unchanged from 2008, while Mugabe’s tally increased by 1.03 million. There were only about 780 000 newly registered voters. So even if every one of these new voters had voted for Mugabe (they obviously did not) the provenance of over 220 000 votes requires explanation. One is that people who did not bother to vote in 2008, when election fever was high, suddenly decided to vote in 2013, when election fever was low. The other is that there was extensive multiple and fraudulent voting. There is considerable evidence of the latter. If these votes are discounted, the numbers are roughly as suggested by the most reliable opinion poll of the time, splitting the votes 53%–47% (a difference of six percentage points) between the two in Mugabe’s favour, rather than the 61%–35% (a difference of 26 percentage points) officially announced.

Is it clear at this stage who will succeed Mugabe?

It is not. And it is quite unwise to pronounce definitively on the subject, as it is probable that Mugabe himself does not currently have a clear preference. At various points in time, there are, however, frontrunners. This time last year it was apparent that an accommodation had been reached between Mugabe, his wife Grace and the ‘Lacoste’ faction in Zanu-PF, which prefer Emmerson Mnangagwa as a successor. Mnangagwa began to look like the president-in-waiting. That accord went sour and, in dramatic events at a rally last weekend, a visibly angry Mugabe indicated that the vice president would soon be fired and replaced by his wife. He subsequently fired Mnangagwa as vice president on 6 November.

Mnangagwa now appears to be out of the succession race, at least from inside Zanu-PF. The number of supporters he can take within him if he leaves the party, which appears inevitable, will test his strength. The G40 group, which coalesces around Grace Mugabe and has suggested Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi as a favourable candidate, is now clearly in the ascendancy within Zanu-PF.

What will happen if Mugabe dies or steps down before the elections? What does the constitution say?

Should Mugabe die or retire, the vice-president who last acted as president (there are two) takes over for an interregnum period of no longer than 90 days. In this time Zanu-PF must name a person as president to serve out the term of office remaining before the next presidential election.



Is the opposition able to put up a strong fight in the 2018 elections?

The opposition, by its own admission, is in disarray. It is severely under-resourced, which leads to organisational problems. There is also factionalism within each of the opposition parties and jostling for positions, which make it very difficult for the parties to come together to form a united front against Mugabe and Zanu-PF. Furthermore, Tsvangirai is fighting cancer and there is a large question mark over his candidacy for 2018. If he is unable to stand, the MDC-T may fracture again, right on the brink of the election, which will be completely debilitating.

Do you think the current economic crisis will have an impact on how the electorate will vote?

The economy is teetering on the brink of a meltdown. Without some sort of rescue package, the only question seems to be when rather than if it will happen. Zanu-PF is hoping that the wheels will stay on until the end of March/April, when it may contrive to hold the early poll. If they fall off before then, this will certainly have an effect on the coming election, as had the 2008 meltdown, which probably contributed to Tsvangirai’s first-round win in March that year. If this happens, Zanu-PF may abandon what appears to be a plan to hold an election that appears legitimate, and resort to violence and repression to remain in power.

Source: Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

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