The announcement in December 2010 by President Robert Mugabe that his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), would leave the country’s inclusive government and hold elections towards the end of this year should sound alarm bells across the region.
The Global Political Agreement (GPA), which in 2009 paved the way for an inclusive government between ZANU-PF and two factions of the former opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was supposed to be a step towards a successful resolution of Zimbabwe’s political crisis. However, the inclusive government seems to have effectively collapsed. Despite losing the first round of the presidential elections, Mugabe and his party violently held onto the presidency in 2008 and have effectively prevented the MDC from implementing key parts of the GPA as a part of the inclusive government.
ZANU-PF wields significantly more power than the MDC in the inclusive government and has retained control of key ministries such as State Security, Defense, Justice and Foreign Affairs. The party has proved unwilling to institute human rights and governance reforms and has placed significant obstacles in the way of any effective human rights improvements. Although the MDC has formal control of some ministries, it lacks real political power to effect change and has been unable to push for human rights reforms. The MDC has ceded ground to ZANU-PF in order to ensure the survival of the inclusive government.
The decision to draw a Global Political Agreement between ZANU-PF and the two factions of the MDC in 2008 certainly eased political violence, and brought the country back from the brink of catastrophe. However, the failure of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to hold Mugabe and his party to account for the killings, beatings and torture that marred the build-up to the presidential run-off led to the political revival of ZANU-PF within the inclusive government, at a time when its legitimacy as a political party was questioned by a significant part of the Zimbabwean population. More crucially, the inclusive government led to the re-ascendancy of the ‘hardliners’ (who include senior party officials in ZANU-PF) who have driven the party’s agenda of state repression and violence to re-gain the ground they lost during the 2008 elections.
Human Rights Watch’s report, “’Bullets for Each of You’: State-Sponsored Violence since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections” highlighted how the ‘hardliners’ bore the greatest responsibility for the widespread violence that took place in the country at the time. The failure to prosecute those most responsible for the abuses in 2008 has led to the recent resurgence of violence and the inability of the MDC, as a part of the inclusive government, to press for reform.
ZANU-PF and its allies in the security forces have already resorted to old campaign tactics of violence, intimidation and harassment. Since the beginning of the year state security agents, police and ZANU-PF supporters have been implicated in beatings, arbitrary arrests and harassment, against MDC members and cabinet ministers, human rights activists, and journalists, deepening the pervasive climate of fear in the country. As a result of these abuses, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to leave the inclusive government.
At the same time, minimal changes to repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) have failed to open up space for the political opposition. The ZANU-PF wing of the government continues to selectively apply these laws and others, such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, to intimidate and harass civil society activists, MDC supporters and members and disrupt their meetings. The widely touted constitutional review process is long overdue. The key institutions that are vital to the proper implementation of free and credible elections, such as the security forces and the judiciary, remain highly partisan towards ZANU-PF and severely compromised.
The outlook for resolving Zimbabwe’s political crisis, without meaningful electoral and constitutional reform, does not look promising. The current stalemate within the inclusive government cannot continue, as it leaves the state in paralysis with both parties running parallel governments. But, it is unclear whether Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC will take part in any elections without substantial reforms and a clear road map that paves the way to fair elections. At the same time, the MDC, having failed to turn election victory into state power within the inclusive government, could see elections as the only option to gain an outright victory over ZANU-PF. If the MDC does not run, Mugabe could be tempted to go ahead with elections and declare himself winner, as he did in 2008. If the MDC does run, ZANU-PF has already shown its determination to win elections by whatever means necessary, through a widespread campaign of violence and intimidation. The political tensions have been ratcheted up and there is an escalating risk of violence between the political parties and against the population in general.
SADC’s involvement in the negotiations for credible elections will be crucial, given the gravity of the situation. The relative lack of bargaining power that the MDC has in the inclusive government should be taken into account by SADC, which should be doing more to hold Mugabe and ZANU-PF to their promises to end political violence, as highlighted by the GPA. An agreed electoral framework between the MDC, ZANU-PF and SADC would provide a proper platform for elections. President Jacob Zuma, as key facilitator to Zimbabwe’s political crisis, should insist on Mugabe heeding his call for the country not to hold elections in the absence of constitutional reform and an election roadmap. SADC should move swiftly to push for substantial electoral reforms and the adoption of constitutional amendments. This will to strengthen the checks and balances between the executive, legislature and judiciary, paving the way for the people of Zimbabwe to freely choose a government of their will.
Tiseke Kasambala is a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch