Zimbabwe: the stakes are high and it’s a close race


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And the soldiers are not of one mind.

If the military side of the somewhat shaky post-coup pact in ZANU-PF fears losing an election, and thus access to more of the wealth more power can bring, the free and fair dimensions of the electoral contest would be drastically diminished. Would a repeat of mid-2008’s post-electoral mayhem, when at least 170 people were killed and nearly 800 beaten or raped, ensue?

To make matters more complex, there are no guarantees that hungry and angry junior army officers would follow their seniors’ attempts to alter the peoples’ will.

Mnangagwa could be at some of the soldier’s mercy. Some suggest that Constantino Chiwenga, the mercurial vice-president and – unconstitutionally – defence minister might be among them.

Others argue that the two leaders need each other if the régime is going to deliver on promises of a clean election

And as George Charamba, Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary for information, put it: “This election is about restoring international re-engagement and legitimacy …. It must be flawless, it must be transparent, it must be free, it must be fair, it must meet international standards, it must be violence free and therefore it must be universally endorsed because it is an instrument of foreign policy … It’s about re-engagement and legitimacy; we are playing politics at a higher level.”

This is a clarion call for a free and fair poll. If the election fails to meet these expectations and its results are tight, legitimacy could be maintained with carefully calculated deals. Perhaps the unity government widely expected during the coup could reappear.

Chamisa and the MDC (the alliance is made up of seven parties, most having split from the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC), appear to be building on the momentum they seem to have gained by challenging the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s management of the contest. The alliance has challenged the commission’s neutrality and raised concerns over the accuracy of the voters’ roll.

Not all its allegations necessarily stand up to scrutiny. The 250 000 alleged ghosts may be a canard, but as Derek Matyszak, the Institute for Security Studies man in Harare, argues, the roll was not released in time for the primaries so none of the candidates are constitutionally valid.

Emboldened by the lack of police, thousands of protesters led by the MDC-Alliance marched to the commission’s headquarters on July 11, showing no fear.

If this impetus keeps building over the next week, a victory is conceivable. So is a presidential run-off. To be sure, the ruling party might win fairly, but the opposition will have to be convinced of that. The mode of politics for the next round should be peacemaking, not war.

The bars are low – ‘the west’, led in this case by the UK, seemed to be happy with the winners of the coup, perhaps hoping for a renewed ZANU-PF. Perfidious Albion (Treacherous England) could end its schizophrenic career in Zimbabwe with a whimper about the end of a liberal democratic dream. But the stakes are high for Zimbabweans: much higher than the reputation of a minor global power past its glory.

The people of Zimbabwe face a lot more than reputational damage: maybe the former colonial power will have a Plan B that helps more than hinders.

By David Moore for the Conversation

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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