The Presidential Run-Off: Mostly Business as Usual for ZANU-PF
September 5, 2008
Zimbabwe’s presidential election has captivated and horrified an international audience, which has watched President Mugabe use violent coercion to maintain his grip on a beleaguered nation. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who won more votes than Mugabe in the March 29 presidential election, withdrew from the presidential run-off on June 22 after a campaign of violence and intimidation by ZANU-PF and associated militias, effectively handing ‘victory’ to the incumbent. International shock and outrage over this subversion of the electoral process are more than justified, but, in fact, the phenomenon is not new or unusual in Zimbabwe. In the run-off, Mugabe and ZANU-PF were able to draw on an extensive repertoire of electoral techniques, improvising to take advantage of circumstances. Over 28 years of holding regular elections, ZANU-PF has developed its own code of conduct in which the end justifies the means. Its recipe to stay in power comprises tried and true techniques, but also some fresh ingredients. All are products of an entrenched dictatorship and are deeply embedded in ZANU-PF’s hold on power. A brief review of some of these tactics should serve as a reminder of the remarkable continuity in ZANU-PF’s electoral strategies to maintain power and their resistance, thus far, to their critics in Africa and the West.
State-sponsored violence was the first reason given by Morgan Tsvangirai for his withdrawal from the race. He cited over 2,000 detentions, over 200,000 internally displaced, and over 10,000 injured and maimed as a result of ZANU-PF orchestrated violence. At least 5,000 MDC supporters, mainly polling agents and council candidates, are thought to be missing or unaccounted for. Some 130 opposition activists have died since the March 29 election, including over 20 since the run-off. Independent data for the entire period since the March election are not available but human rights groups have confirmed the massive scale of political violence and the occurrence of substantial displacement. MDC officials, election candidates, polling agents, and supporters—and their families, homes, and businesses—have been targets of ZANU-PF violence since 2000.
In the 2002 presidential election, over 50 percent of the 6,000 MDC polling agents were not at their polling stations on the eve of the polls, because of arrests, assaults, and abductions, and six were reported to have been killed after the election. From the March 2000 parliamentary election campaign until early 2004, an astoundingly high number of MDC candidates, both winners and losers, reported having been victims of personal and/or property violence, as had their family members and their support staff. Over 200,000 incidents of political violence and 40 deaths were estimated to have occurred in the first four months of 2000. The 2002 presidential elections are widely held to have been still more violent.
The targets of state-orchestrated violence and repression after the March 2008 elections included new victims, notably electoral observers from the reputable NGO, Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), polling officers, and some electoral commission staff members. ZANU-PF parceled some of the blame for its poor performance in March to these groups that played an official role in the electoral process. While MDC MPs are not new targets of violence and repression, ZANU-PF’s targeting of MDC MPs-elect since the March 2008 election was in all likelihood at least partly aimed to reverse the ruling party’s historic loss of its majority in the assembly. The MDC says 18 MDC MPs currently face criminal charges, ranging from inciting political violence to treason. Should these MPs miss 21 consecutive sittings of parliament, when it convenes, or be imprisoned for at least six months, the constitution provides for them to lose their seats and for by-elections to be held.
The perpetrators of electoral violence in 2008, as in the past, have been overwhelmingly allied to ZANU-PF and the state and paramilitary institutions that it controls—the army, police, militia, war veterans, the intelligence services—as well as ZANU-PF winning and losing candidates for local councils and parliament, cabinet ministers, and top party officials. Violence during the presidential run-off was characterized by at least two novel features. First, the top hierarchy of the security forces and the party elite, who had acquired land confiscated from white-owned commercial farmers beginning in 2000, often used their farms as bases for the militia and mobilized war veterans and other beneficiaries of smaller land parcels to defend their land and the country’s sovereignty—the party’s main campaign slogan. Second, Operation Mavhoterapapi (Who did you vote for) targeted MDC voters chiefly in the rural areas, including in ZANU-PF’s heartland which had previously been a “no go area” for opposition parties. The terror campaign spread later to urban areas in and around Harare. Urban MDC voters have been the victims of retributive state-sponsored violence since 2000.
State-sponsored post-election violence to punish opposition voters has been a common feature of elections even when ZANU-PF did not suffer humiliating national losses as it did in the March 2008 elections. As early as 1985, for instance, when the Joshua Nkomo-led ZAPU party retained most of its parliamentary seats in its stronghold, ZANU-PF followed the lull in violence during the election campaign with an escalation of post-election violence. ZANU-PF was rewarded with the Unity Accord in 1987 which effectively absorbed ZAPU leaders into ZANU-PF; it is poised for a similar unjust reward following its recent ‘victory’. Massive state-sponsored violence against chiefly urban MDC voters and their homes and businesses also followed the relatively peaceful campaign for the 2005 parliamentary election.
The security forces and the prison services required many members and their families to cast postal ballots in front of their commanding officers to guarantee that they voted for Mugabe in the presidential run-off. This practice has been part of the ruling party’s repertoire since 2000. In the current election, it was extended to add supervised voting for family members of the uniformed services.
The electoral commission typically depends on public servants, and in particular teachers, to serve as polling officers. Because at least 120 polling officers were arrested on charges of fraud after the March election, civil servants were scared to do the job. Press reports indicate that ZANU-PF youth and militants were put on the public service payroll so that they could serve as polling officers, and also that soldiers were employed as polling officers and that teachers in parts of Matabeleland were banned from serving as polling officers. Such reports suggest a new arena for the militarization of electoral staff, a process that began in 2000.
In the campaign for the June 27 election, the ruling party used the state-owned daily newspapers—the only dailies—and state-owned radio and television to disseminate the party’s propaganda. The MDC president was depicted as a “sell-out” and paid stooge of Britain, the United States, and the West generally, and as an advocate of Western sanctions, which were blamed for the collapsing economy. Moreover, the MDC was characterized as a violent party seeking regime change and ZANU-PF as merely defending the country’s sovereignty. A week before the run-off, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings, the only public broadcaster in the country, stated it would not broadcast MDC campaign advertisements “because they contain inappropriate language and information.” However, according to Morgan Tsvangirai, the public media had refused to permit MDC advertisements during the entire run-off campaign period. Exploitation of media control by the ruling party and its use of a political discourse to de-legitimate the opposition is nothing new. The ruling party has demonized every major opposition party since 1985 as lackeys of foreigners and as the primary perpetrators of violence. ZANU-PF’s violence has always been portrayed as necessary to defend the country against illegitimate opposition. In the presidential election of 2002, the state-owned broadcasting corporation refused to run MDC campaign advertisements on radio and television.
Ordering NGOs to suspend providing humanitarian aid
In early June, the government ordered NGOs providing humanitarian aid to cease all field operations. Where organizations provided food or HIV/AIDS-related assistance that did not involve community mobilization—for example, individuals visited clinics to obtain drugs—NGOs could continue to function. However, state-sponsored violence and intimidation made it difficult for NGOs to function even when their activities had not been suspended. The suspension of field operations by NGOs was a new restriction, ostensibly to prevent NGOs from mobilizing for the opposition. However, since at least the 2000 parliamentary election campaign, ZANU-PF has expressed intense hostility to NGOs, depicting them as engaged in oppositional activity and seeking regime change. In late 2004, parliament passed the NGO Act which prohibited foreign funding for all NGOs involved in governance issues and barred foreign NGOs which had governance issues as their principal purpose. President Mugabe did not sign the Act into law. While this legislation was aimed more at NGOs’ involvement in voter education and election monitoring and observing—activities now tightly controlled by government through other legislation—the NGO Act signaled government’s willingness to act against domestic and international NGOs where they were deemed a threat to ruling party interests.
Disenfranchisement through displacement and identity card theft
ZANU-PF used at least two methods of disenfranchising MDC supporters ahead of the run-off. MDC supporters often had their identity documents, one of the major documents needed to vote, either burned or removed during state-sponsored attacks. Some MDC supporters also turned in their identity cards in order to qualify for government food aid. According to Morgan Tsvangirai, state-sponsored violence had displaced over 200,000 people one week before the run-off. Not all the displaced were eligible voters (about 10,000 were children) but the ward-based voting requirement made many ineligible to vote. Except for demanding identity cards in exchange for food relief, these mechanisms of disenfranchisement are not new. For example, in the 2002 presidential election campaign, youth militia and war veterans, often at illegal roadblocks, removed the identity cards of those who could not produce ZANU-PF membership cards. In the 2000 parliamentary election, where voting was constituency-based, land invasions that displaced white farmers and farm workers from their constituencies also led to disenfranchisement.
For all the cracks in regional and continental solidarity, and the verbal denunciations by the United States and the EU in response to the June election, Mugabe and ZANU-PF are still in power. President Mugabe is well-positioned to “normalize” his rule and consolidate his power. In the ongoing negotiations with the opposition, Mugabe and ZANU-PF will enjoy the advantages of incumbents. On July 21, the leaders of the two MDC factions and ZANU-PF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to engage in a dialogue to create a solution to “the Zimbabwe situation” within two weeks. The MOU, unlike the agenda of the 8-month long talks that ended in failure in January 2008, envisages that the parties will form an inclusive government. For this reason, the MOU includes a provision that parliament will not be convened and that a new government will not be formed without the consensus of the signatories. The two MDC factions can help themselves by not allowing ZANU-PF to exploit their fragile unity, which would also restore ZANU-PF’s control in the assembly. Ideally, the mediators should ensure that the opposition’s parliamentary majority and Tsvangirai’s victory in the March poll are reflected in the distribution of cabinet seats and in Tsvangirai’s share of executive power. Any future election should not occur under ZANU-PF supervision. ZANU-PF must not be able to use the negotiations to complete the decimation of the opposition, as it did in the 1987 Unity Accord. But with Mugabe’s record of outwitting his opponents and mediators, it should not come as a surprise if he uses the dialogue to further consolidate ZANU-PF’s power. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Norma Kriger is a consultant specializing in Zimbabwe. She is author of Guerrilla Veterans in Post-war Zimbabwe: Symbolic and Violent Politics, 1980-1987 (Cambridge, 2003).
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