via Sham or not, election flaws unlikely to unseat Mugabe by Brian Raftopoulos Professor at University of the Western Cape
The recent elections in Zimbabwe were always likely to be problematic. Despite the hope of former South African president Thabo Mbeki in 2007 that his mediation efforts would lead to an vote that was “conducted in a manner that will make it impossible for any honest person in Zimbabwe to question the legitimacy of their outcomes,” this was the case neither in the 2008 nor the 2013 elections.
In the run up to the latest elections there were several issues that militated against a generally acceptable outcome. These ranged from Zanu PF’s persistent obstruction and widely reported problems around voters’ registration and the voters’ roll, to the persistent, though reduced, tensions over the sanctions conditions imposed on the Mugabe regime by the West from the early 2000s.
A combination of Zanu PF’s ruthlessness in dealing with opposition parties, the allure of employment opportunities, the shrinking social base of the opposition and the limits of Southern African Development Community’s response to a recalcitrant Mugabe regime, all constrained threats from the now factionalised Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of mass action against yet another stolen election.
Zanu PF ‘victory’ dwarfs 2009
Thus the results of the recent elections were only a surprise to the extent that Zanu PF’s “victory” was so overwhelming. In the March 2008 election Mugabe received 45% of the presidential vote while his party won 99 parliamentary seats, while in the same election Morgan Tsvangirai received 48% of the presidential vote and his party 100 seats. In 2013 Mugabe’s share of the presidential vote leaped to 61% while that of Tsvangirai plunged to 33%, with their parties receiving 159 and 49 parliamentary seats respectively.
How did this happen? It is still too early to make a thorough assessment of the 2013 elections. However some general remarks can be proffered. Firstly there is little doubt that Zanu PF’s deliberate obstruction in fully implementing the reform measures, in particular changes to the security sector, made it difficult for the MDCs to fully exploit any political spaces that may have opened up under such reforms.
But it cannot be denied that the performance of the MDCs left much to be desired, and their lack of political co-ordination allowed Mugabe to weaken their effectiveness and exploit the differences between the two factions.
The legacy of the violence of 2008 also appears to have played a role – while the run up was peaceful this time around, memories of violence combined with verbal threats could have been sufficient to intimidate voters into not voting for the opposition in 2013. ZANU’s coercive power over who has access to council flats and vending stands could also have influenced voting.