In less than a week, Zimbabwe will go to the polls in the first presidential and parliamentary elections since the violent 2008 election and formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU). Analysts generally agree that this election may be the most important in determining the country’s path since Zimbabwe’s first election in 1980. As such, the whole world is watching. Yet while the run up to the election has not been as violent as 2008, there are still plenty of concerns about the legitimacy of the election given a rushed and flawed process to get to the polls on time.
Although the Global Political Agreement that established the GNU in 2009 laid out a roadmap for government reforms, the drafting of a new constitution and harmonized elections, the road to this election has not been smooth. Key reforms – particularly in the security sector – have not occurred while the successful referendum on a new constitution happened woefully behind schedule, just four months before next week’s national election. The end result is an incomplete democratization process as well as a hasty rush to fulfill the final requirement of the GNU with harmonized elections.
In such an environment nearly everything is a point of contention between the main political parties of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai MDC-T and Welshman Ncube’s MDC-N. Even the setting of the election date became a mini political crisis as Mugabe used his executive authority to unilaterally set the date for July 31 against the wishes of the other parties and the process set out under Zimbabwean law. Likewise issues with voter registration and access to voter rolls have plagued the political landscape with numerous civil society groups working in this area attacked and observers objecting to procedural problems, leading to a steady stream of court cases aimed at fixing these issues to little avail and with no real explanation of the resulting decisions.
And there are major problems. Any possible doubt over that was relieved with a disastrous “Special Vote” held last week for security forces who will be working on election day. Not only were far more security forces registered than actually exist in the country, but many were unable to cast their ballot over the two days allotted due to a shortage in voting materials and staff. The resulting frustration at some polling stations led to the odd scenario where police were called in to subdue their colleagues still waiting to vote. The inability of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to adequately prepare and carry out an election for 70,000 voters over two days leaves many questioning their ability to oversee an election for 6 million in a single day, let alone release a full count of the ballots within five days as promised.
Despite the numerous issues already apparent in the run up to the election, the march to the polls continues. But the flaws in the overall process matter in giving context to the credibility of the election.
Recent internal documents leaked to The Daily Mail outline plans by ZANU PF to rig the election through voter intimidation and manipulating the voter rolls, plans the failed process so far in Zimbabwe does little to counteract. With so much on the line for Zimbabwe, including the possible removal of Western sanctions, it is crucial for Zimbabwe to present a credible election. But with just five days left until people cast their vote, the question remains that with this background, is it even possible for this election to be credible regardless of who comes out on top?