BY ARTHUR G O MUTAMBARA
WHAT is the dilemma we face with respect to the 2023 elections? Can these elections address the national question — politics and economic affairs of Zimbabwe? What are the lessons we can draw from the history of stolen or rigged polls in Zimbabwe? Is there a stampede towards the 2023 elections? Is history of electoral theft about to repeat itself in Zimbabwe? How do we avoid this repetition? What needs to be done? What is the way forward?
To address the above questions, we need to appreciate the nature and calibre of elections that can resolve the national question. This speaks to a variety of issues: election management, the credibility of the election processes, electoral laws, voter registration, the quality of opposition parties, and nature of the Zimbabwean State
A brief history of rigged elections
The starting point is a quick overview of the recent history of rigged elections in Zimbabwe, which starts in 2000. There were disputes about polls before, but after 2000, electoral fraud was now on an industrial scale — poll theft on steroids.
According to official results, in 2000 Zanu PF obtained 62 MPs against the newly-formed MDC’s 57 MPs. In 2002, after subjecting (former MDC-T leader the late) Morgan Tsvangirai to a frivolous treason trial during the elections, (the late former President) Robert Mugabe gave himself 56,2% of the vote and 42% to a man with a hangman’s noose around his neck.
The year 2008 was the best year for the opposition. In the Lower House, Zanu PF had 99 MPs, MDC-T 100 and MDC-M 10. For the first time, Zanu PF was in the minority — its 99 MPs against the opposition’s combined strength of 110.
After holding onto the presidential results for six weeks, the Zanu PF regime announced that Mugabe had lost to Tsvangirai 43,2% to 47,9%, while Simba Makoni was awarded 8,3% of the vote. “There was no winner. Let us go for a runoff,” they declared. What can the opposition learn from the outcomes of 2008?
What did the regime learn from its rigging efforts in that year? After the lapse of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Zanu PF went for the jugular and attained 160 MPs to the MDC-T’s 49. Mugabe claimed a handsome 61,1% versus Tsvangirai’s measly 34,9%. What does this all mean?
Fast forward to the 2018 harmonised elections, Zanu PF again secured a two-thirds majority of 180 MPs in the Lower House while MDC-A settled for 87 MPs. President Emmerson Mnangagwa scrapped through with 50,67% of the vote to Nelson Chamisa’s 44,39%. The MDC-A challenged the presidential outcome but did not challenge the parliamentary results.
This was a strategic mistake.
Of what value would a presidential victory within the context of Zanu PF’s two-thirds majority? Zanu PF would just impeach the new president out of office or stop him from passing any legislation including budgets.
This means that the efficacy of the presidential court challenge was not thought-through.
As of today, Zanu PF has lost one MP to a recall and three to deaths. Hence, their Lower House representation stands at 176, while the MDC-A has lost two MPs to death and suffered 12 Zanu PF-induced recalls (gifted to the Zanu PF surrogate party — MDC-T — which Douglas Mwonzora leads), leaving their parliamentary strength at 73.
Clearly, Zanu PF lacks a two-thirds majority in both the Lower House (176 short of four) and Upper House (53 short of one).
It follows that Mwonzora’s MDC-T enabled Zanu PF to pass the recent illegal and unconstitutional amendments to the national governance charter. It is significant to note that in the 2018 presidential poll, officially, there is a paltry difference of 304 000 votes between Mnangagwa and Chamisa. More importantly, Mnangagwa scraps through and avoids a run-off by a measly 0,67% or a dishonourable 48 000 votes.
What did the regime learn from this rigged outcome? What insights did the opposition pick up from this fraudulent exercise?
From 2000 to present, Zimbabwean elections have been rigged. What will be different or new in 2023? The 2018 elections were a forgone conclusion. They had to be won by the junta, by any means necessary.
The purpose of those polls was to cure and sanitise the coup d état of November 2017. Otherwise, what would be the point of the military intervention? Why carry out a coup d état, commit treason, and then hand over power to the opposition? It would not make sense.
Now, today in 2021, we have a military-based regime, a product of a coup d état. In 2023 we will still be within the context of a coup d’état!
Can a coup d état-based regime, consisting of people who committed treason, afford to lose power in 2023?
That is the Zimbabwean dilemma. In any case, when we investigate the history of coup d’états, it is instructive to observe that they come in pairs — twins. The military interventions in Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso are ample testimony to this. Consequently, the Zimbabwean junta is scared stiff of a second coup d état. Hence, they are busy coup d état-proofing their administration through the unconstitutional amendments, establishing a tribal hegemony, a clansman-based patronage system and systemic corruption. For example, removing the running mate clause is meant to neutralise potential rivals, while the change in term limits for judges creates a compromised and pliant Judiciary.
Context of the 2023 elections
So, in summary, the context of the 2023 elections is defined by a coup d état-based government — a securocratic State. Furthermore, there is State and party (Zanu PF) conflation.
There is a collapsed economy, a dismal and inefficient supply of public goods and services, and a dysfunctional patronage-based public service. All this anchored in pervasive and systemic corruption, primitive tribalism and shameless clansmanship.
To compound our situation, the regime has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to shut down all democratic spaces. Moreover, the opposition is divided. It is at its weakest. Some of its elements have been co-opted by the regime such that Zanu PF now has an opposition party doing its bidding for it — the MDC-T.
That is the state of play in Zimbabwe as we hurtle and stampede towards the 2023 elections.
Restating the challenge
The regime is not planning to go anywhere, anytime soon.The recent illegal amendments are part of lawfare — the weaponisation of the law. Mnangagwa’s eyes are set and fixated on the 2023 elections. There is clear consolidation of power and repurposing of State institutions in pursuit of the same.
Why does Mnangagwa want a pliant, partisan, compromised and captured Judiciary in 2023?
This is because he knows that he is going to lose the polls. He is certain about this. He expects to lose the election and then proceed to rig the outcome. Then what? The opposition will then go to court to challenge and contest the fraudulent results.
Who will they find at the courts? A compromised Chief Justice Luke Malaba and his pliant Judiciary will be waiting for them!
That is Mnangagwa’s legal strategy.
He has already extended Malaba’s tenure as Chief Justice. The over-aged Chief Justice is now a grateful beneficiary of Zanu PF patronage and largesse. He is now compromised and vulnerable.
He is now a “safe (for junta) pair” of hands to preside over any challenges to the expected fraudulent poll in 2023. That is the method to the madness of the illegal and unconstitutional constitutional amendments.
Mnangagwa is very clear that rigging is not enough. He wants to rig with unassailable impunity in 2023 — that is his ambition.
This is the political rationale behind Constitution Amendment No 1 and 2.
As already explained with the unelected VPs, Mnangagwa seeks power to manage the factions in Zanu PF, undermine his rivals, allowing him and his clansmen to determine Zanu PF succession beyond 2023. What escapes him is that all these shenanigans can be a recipe for another coup d état — the twin of the first one.
Mnangagwa’s clumsy and amateurish coup d état-proofing might lead to another coup d état. Sad.
These nefarious legal efforts, including the Patriotic Bill, are part of what is called rule by law. We don’t want that. What we want is the rule of law. We demand more than constitutionality. We want constitutionalism.
In order to achieve fraudulent polls and entrench dictatorship in 2018, the Zanu PF junta has complementary strategies to the amendments. These are the Patriotic Bill being drafted, deployment of unrestrained, naked and violent repression (six people killed on August 1 2018 for protesting about elections, 12 dead after fuel riots in January 2019); harassment, persecution and violence against opposition, taming, co-optation and bribing of elements of the opposition, political patronage, systemic corruption, primitive tribalism and shameless clansmanship.
The net result of all this is power retention and consolidation at any cost in 2023. It is authoritarian consolidation anchored in despotic power retention. Elections then just become an irritation — an inconvenient nuisance.
Needless to say, all this has a devastating impact on the economy, business, jobs, lives and livelihoods.
As we stampede towards the 2023 elections, we must understand the differences between Mugabe and Mnangagwa. The latter believes in the quick use of excessive force. He is more brazen with murderous tactics, as evidenced with deaths in August 2018 and January 2019. Mnangagwa’s disposition and strategy are straightforward:
“Violence works! Use it as a first resort. Show no mercy and deal with the outrage and fallout later.”
On lawfare (weaponisation of law), Mnangagwa is crasser more brazen than Mugabe. His background is from the intelligence services, hence rampant abuse of intelligence resources, particularly falsified military intelligence against political rivals and opponents.
It is now a common cause that falsified military intelligence was used against the Gamatox and G40 groupings in Zanu PF. Joice Mujuru, Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa were obvious victims of such methods. Of course, the MDC-A is in the thick of such victimisation as we speak.
Unlike Mugabe, Mnangagwa is a man of limited ability and talents in every respect.
He is a man of very scanty imagination and intelligence.
This is the foundation of his profound insecurity leading to the tragic vices described above.
Here is a man who used to be a violent hatchet man for Mugabe. Now he is a violent hatchet man for himself. What do you expect?
Furthermore, Mugabe was a subtle and sophisticated tribalist. Mnangagwa is an unimaginative, primitive tribalist steeped in clansman politics.
Stopping history from repeating itself
The starting point is to emphasise the role of ordinary people, civil society and political parties. We must all take charge of our lives. In particular, we must all have unity of purpose if we are going to stop the repetition of history in 2023. Of paramount importance is opposition unity in contesting elections.
Meaning and impact of opposition unity
Does the opposition in Zimbabwe understand the strategic value of unity? Do the party leaders understand the meaning of a divided opposition and the implications thereof?
Opposition party disunity does not just imply dividing the votes of supporters. Neither does unity only achieve the addition of followers’ votes.
No. It is much more than that.
Disunity demoralises the broader and general opposition-inclined electorate beyond ardent party supporters and members.
On the other hand, unity energises the entire electorate.
A united opposition has a massive psychological impact on voters hungry for change.
A united platform is a mobilising tool.
“What? The opposition parties are united? They have one presidential candidate against a repressive regime. Change is definitely coming! Let us register and vote en masse.”
That is the strategic value of unity.
An even more significant strategic value of unity is removing plausible rationale or explanation for rigged election outcomes.
If the opposition is divided and a repressive regime defeats them through the rigging of polls; doubt is planted in the minds of many citizens and observers on whether rigging has actually taken place.
“Maybe the opposition lost fairly and justifiably. They were divided anyway. If they were united, they would have won! It is the opposition’s fault. They must shape up or ship out!”
The opposition division creates a plausible rationale or explanation for rigged election results.
An excellent and instructive illustration of this phenomenon is from the 2008 presidential elections. The rigged poll results were as follows: Mugabe 43,2% against Tsvangirai’s 47,9%, with Makoni as a distant third with 8,3%.
Looking at these results, here is the view from the uninitiated,
“Why were these guys divided? Between Morgan and Simba, they have 56% of the vote. If Makoni and the MDC-M had backed Tsvangirai, the opposition would have won. How foolish can these opposition leaders be?”
Well, that sounds logical. However, it is the wrong interpretation of rigged election outcomes. It is misplaced and unsophisticated analysis.
Tsvangirai actually won despite the lack of backing from MDC-M.
He got comfortably above 60% of the vote. By the way, this is now a well-known and accepted fact. When the Zanu PF regime was imploding in factionalism leading to the coup d état, the feuding factions generously shared the details of the rigging of the first round of the 2008 presidential elections.
What does this all mean? It means that by entering the 2008 elections divided, we played hostage to fortune. While our disunity did not damage Tsvangirai’s electoral strength, it proved a plausible rationale for the rigged election outcome. The rigged results looked reasonable!
Going forward, the opposition parties and their leaders must understand the strategic value of unity beyond the summation of votes. They must internalise the phenomenon of disunity providing a plausible rationale for rigged outcomes. Unity must also aim to stop Zanu PF from achieving a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.
The MDC Alliance is the bona fide opposition party in Zimbabwe. It is the most popular political party in the country. Consequently, this party must show leadership.
It must reach out to all opposition parties and their presidential candidates, for example, Nkosana Moyo, Lovemore Madhuku, Noah Manyika, and Jacob Ngarivhume. Negotiate with them and get their candidates off the ballot sheet.
MDC Alliance must not be arrogant because of its strong and popular base. Neither should it be insecure towards high-quality presidential candidates like Moyo.
MDC-A must reach out to all political players. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be insecure.
It is a terrible combination. Of course, Mwonzora and his MDC-T constitute an interesting and tricky proposition, given their direct Zanu PF parentage.
Nevertheless, give them the benefit of the doubt. Talk to them.
It is also prudent to review the general state of the opposition in Zimbabwe. The securocratic government has embarked on the steady decimation of all opposition, specifically MDC Alliance.
The Zanu PF-created MDC-T is both inept and intellectually bankrupt. They have no social base.
However, it is instructive to note that the differences of the MDC-A and MDC-T can only be settled by a national election. Will MDC-T keep those ill-gotten MPs?
Another strategy to stop the repetition of history in 2023 is to increase the opposition victory margin dramatically before results are rigged.
The smaller the margin, the greater the temptation to rig. With a narrow loss of 11 780 votes in the US State of Georgia, former President Donald Trump was tempted to rig.
He phoned Georgia’s State Secretary and remonstrated with him, begging the official to rig the elections: “I just want to find 11 780 votes.”
Of course, Trump did not succeed in his rigging ambitions. The US strong institutions and men and women of integrity such as the State Secretary of Georgia and Vice President Mike Pence stopped him.
Well, in Zimbabwe, where are our strong institutions? Who are our women and men of integrity? We must answer these two questions in the affirmative before 2023.
It is also important to note that a small margin of victory makes the rigging exercise easy in addition to tempting riggers. The message is that in 2023 the opposition must aim to win by a massive ratio.
Can you imagine if in 2023 Mnangagwa gets 20% and the opposition candidate gets 80%? How do you even begin to rig that? It is harder than rigging a close election.
By the way, it is not only the good people who learn from rigged election results. The junta also learns.
Here is their lesson from the 2018 presidential election: In 2023 the rigging strategy is as follows: “Avoid a run-off and get a percentage much higher than 50%, say 55% or higher. Just more than 50% is not enough. Get way above 50%. Make rigged outcome unequivocal.
This will cheapen and demoralise any legal challenge and provide plausible justification for victory. Also, get two-thirds majority in parliament.’
What needs to be done
Civil society and political parties must push for political reforms, including constitutional amendments to enable free, fair and credible elections. Zanu PF is doing the opposite. They are implementing constitutional amendments — political reforms — to enable and safeguard the rigging of elections. How cynical can you get?
We want political reforms to improve democracy, deepen democracy and expand the democratic space, leading to free, fair, transparent and credible elections in 2023. We want professionalism, transparency, integrity and independence in the management of our elections.
All stakeholders must agree on and implement political reforms, thus guaranteeing undisputed poll outcomes. We must resolve perennial polarisation due to stolen or rigged elections.
As explained earlier, for history not to repeat itself, we must devise strategies to stop a Zanu PF two-thirds majority in 2023. We must focus intensely on parliamentary seats, not just the presidency. Improve the quality of opposition candidates by putting a premium on (a) technical competence, (b) proven capabilities (c) demonstrable commitment and ethical leadership, (e) strategic thinking, and (f) a track record of measurable achievements.
The political (electoral) reforms
We must demand the overhaul of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) in terms of its structure, member appointment method, and independence. In professionalising Zec, we can pick lessons from the Electoral Commission of South Africa, also known as the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
The appointment of the Zec chairperson should not be done by a national President who is an interested party in the elections.
We must overhaul our electoral system, for example (a) 100% PR (big parties dislike this, so civil society must drive the agenda), (b) 50-50 gender parity (c) Diaspora vote (the Diaspora remittances are sustaining the Zimbabwean economy.
There should be no taxation without representation).
We need a different election management system and a transparent delimitation exercise.
Media reforms must ensure equitable and fair access during the pre-election period, the campaigns, the elections themselves and beyond. It is important to note that some of the political reforms might require constitutional amendments. For others, new ordinary Acts of Parliament will be sufficient.
What more needs to be done
We need both people power and progressive lawfare. We must pick up lessons from previously exposed rigging evidence and activities. We must identify and disable the enablers of rigging — both institutions and individuals — such as the military, the system and Joint Operation Command (Joc).
We must ensure the prescribed route and destination of the election results are bona fide for both presidential and parliamentary elections. We must ensure fidelity of results’ server.
Opposition parties must field election agents in all the country’s 10 985 polling stations. They must deploy agents in all 1 985 ward centres, 210 constituency centres, and 10 provincial centres. We must understand institutionalised rigging by Zec, and combat this
People of Zimbabwe, there are things we directly control. Let us push for massive voter registration, followed by massive voting and defending the vote. This is what will stop history from repeating itself.
Heavy voter registration and massive turnout on election day will make it difficult, if not impossible, to rig the elections.
Strategies must be put in place to stop further constitutional changes such as presidential term limit and presidential age requirement.
Political mobilisation and public campaigns against the two amendments and the Patriotic Bill. All this must be done, by putting civil society and ordinary people, particularly women and the youths, at the centre of all our struggles.
Limitations of the law
While legal action must continue against Amendment No 1, which is a legal nullity, and that against Amendment No 2, which is in total and fatal breach of the Constitution; we must be alive to the limitation of law as an instrument of struggle.
During the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe, the freedom fighters quickly realised the futility of seeking justice from the enemy’s illegitimate courts. Taking legal action against the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia’s courts was futile. Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke (1969) case where the legality Smith’s UDI was tested is a classic example.
Smith’s courts ruled that UDI was legal. It is not sensible to seek justice from the enemy’s courts. There was an appeal to the Privy Council (highest of the Commonwealth), which ruled that UDI was illegal. The Smith regime just ignored the judgment.
Next door in South Africa, it was futile to take legal action against the Apartheid regime in Apartheid courts. Now here is the challenge to Mnangagwa and Zanu PF:
“Is it you desire to become an illegal regime characterised by illegal judges and an illegitimate judiciary. Is it your ambition to become a rogue regime in the mould of Ian Smith and apartheid?”
Make up your mind. You have a historic decision to make. If your choice is illegality and illegitimacy just like Ian Smith or the apartheid system, then we have news for you:
“We will not be coming to your illegitimate courts for justice!”
Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (Zanla) and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionry Army (Zipra) forces did not ask for the vote from Smith’s courts.
Josiah Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, Nikita Mangena and Jason Moyo did not plead for freedom, justice and independence from Smith’s courts.
Why did they not do that? What are the lessons from their example?
South Africa’s MK and APLA fighters did not ask for freedom and justice from apartheid courts.
Chris Hani and Joe Slovo did not beg for freedom from apartheid courts.
Why did they not do that? What are the lessons from their example? Going to court has its limits.
Please, lawyers, ‘our learned friends’, explain to the people of Zimbabwe the limitations of law as an instrument of struggle.
Resolving the Dilemma
Yes, Zimbabwe can be made ready for the 2023 elections. Polls can solve our national question. However, there is a big caveat. This can only happen if a number of things articulated in this treatise are implemented in the next two years.
Is history about to repeat itself? Not necessarily. If we are awake, it will not.
The Zimbabwean dilemma requires all hands on deck; civil society, business, political parties and ordinary folks. No one is coming to save us but us.
There have been discussions about having an electoral sabbath, where elections are suspended in favour of collective national reforms under a national transitional authority (NTA).
This is an ideal and preferred pathway, but wholly unrealistic.
It is pie in the sky — just an unattainable dream. In the context of national polarisation, induced by a military junta, it is highly unachievable.
The arrogant and brazen constitutional amendments by an over-confident junta whose authority is derived from a coup d état constitute an eloquent besmirching of any prospects for an NTA.
Moreover, the bitterly divided opposition will not cooperate on the NTA. More significantly, the differences between the MDC-A and MDC-T can only be settled by a national election.
The opposition needs a national election to determine who is who among them, not an NTA.
Unfortunately, there will be no suspension of elections in 2023 – no electoral sabbath so that Zimbabweans can work on national reforms. It will not happen.
There will be no NTA in Zimbabwe.
In any case, a constitutional amendment will be required to enable the NTA arrangement. An overconfident and arrogant Zanu PF will not give power to the NTA. The amendment will not pass.
Moreover, depending on the format of the NTA, there will be no takers of this noble idea from the opposition.
How can ambitious politicians surrender national political power for five or 10 years to a group of unelected non-political players? No chance. The NTA is not feasible.
Let us concentrate on achieving credible elections in 2023, which can resolve our national question.
We can use lawfare (legal strategies) while understanding the limitations thereof.
We must deploy people power (political strategies), pursue political reforms, and unity of purpose in the opposition.
There must be involvement of civil society, women and youths. We must involve all stakeholders – an ecosystem approach.
We must be our own liberators through (a) massive voter registration, (b) massive voting and, of course, (c) defending the vote.
We, the people of Zimbabwe, must become the electoral revolution we wish to see in 2023.
History must not repeat itself.
- Arthur Mutambara is former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.