/ 22 August 2023

Zimbabweans should not expect a democratic outcome in elections – Good Governance Africa

Main Party Rallies Ahead Of Zimbabwe's General Election
A campaign lorry, featuring Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's president, dives onto the field during a Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANUPF) rally at the National Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On the eve of Zimbabwe’s national elections, Zimbabweans have been warned that the ruling Zanu-PF party would not allow for a democratic outcome.

Zimbabweans are due to vote in local, parliamentary, and presidential polls on Wednesday amid tensions between the ruling party and the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) headed by Nelson Chamisa. 

The CCC has accused the Zanu-PF of carrying out a campaign of violence and intimidation against its opponents to skew the election in its favour. Similar to previous years, the ruling party rejects the charge.

A joint webinar on Tuesday, hosted by Good Governance Africa, a nonprofit research organisation that advocates for improved governance on the African continent — and the Mail & Guardian, discussed election conditions in a country where democratic structures have been undermined.

While Zimbabweans should carry out their democratic right to vote, the country cannot expect democratic results after President Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced long-term leader Robert Mugabe in a military-led coup in 2017, said Chris Maroleng, the GGA’s international chief executive.

Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF went on to win a disputed presidential and parliamentary election in 2018.

“We are warning that to expect a democratic outcome, from what has been … an unconstitutional change of power and ultimately, a failure to reform the state, cannot ultimately result in the kind of progressive outcomes that we want,” Maroleng said.

He and three colleagues were deported from Zimbabwe by Mnangagwa’s government last week while conducting field research on the conditions ahead of the vote.  

Ibbo Mandaza, a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher, told Tuesday’s webinar that the election would see an abuse of people’s votes. 

“People queue up, they are confident that they voted for what they want; change. And at the end of the day, they [discover] that their vote [has] just been disregarded,” he said.

Mandaza said although the elections would probably be rigged, he was hopeful that they would lead to the exposure of “the rigging machine” that had overshadowed elections in the past.  

Maroleng concurred: “These elections will generate an illegitimate outcome, most likely manifesting further polarisation of society.”

He said Zimbabwe was, like many other postcolonial African states, still grappling with the difficult issue of how to “ensure that there is a restoration of governance in their countries”.

“[How can] we expect a democratic outcome from a structural situation that has not been preceded by the establishment of sound and democratic practice,” said Maroleng, referring to Zimbabwe’s 2017 coup.

“We expected from an unconstitutional change process to generate democratic outcomes, which in many ways, in terms of the analysis, is highly problematic and has resulted in us making several analytical mistakes.

“If we are to treat elections as a democratic outcome in a structural situation that is not democratic, I think we have failed to really see what is in front of us.”

Maroleng said alternative mechanisms were needed to generate the reforms that could produce lasting democratic outcomes. 

“These reforms are both related to aspects related to the structure of the state, within the executive, within the legislature, and ultimately, of course, the judiciary,” he said.

Zanu-PF has always rejected charges that it has rigged elections since 2000, and insists that tomorrow’s week’s vote will be free and fair.