Zimbabwe Elections Scenarios: New ICG Report Cuts Through the Political Posturing

The International Crisis Group issued on 6 May a very helpful report entitled Zimbabwe: Elections Scenarios. Prepared by Piers Pigou, the ICG’s Southern Africa projects director and his team, this report should be required reading for those outside of Zimbabwe wanting to understand where the different parties in Zimbabwe and regional stakeholder in Southern Africa now stand on the question of future elections.

ZANU-PF has been lobbying to hold elections on 29 June, 2013. The MDC-Tsvangirai and the MDC-Ncube have been negotiating to postpone elections until key reforms set out in the Global Political Agreement are completed, most notably security sector reforms and the opening up of the media to allow equal access for campaigning.

It is clear that the June 29 date is unrealistic for a number of reasons outlined in the ICG report.  The questions now are not only when elections will be held, but also whether or not Southern African Development Community (SADC) officials, who are the guarantors of the GPA, will be able to provide the necessary muscle to force ZANU-PF to implement reforms that could increase the chances for peaceful elections.

The ICG Report is very skeptical on the latter point, and offers a number of examples based on interviews with ZANU-PF and MDC insiders on why the likelihood of further political violence remains high.  Most importantly, the ICG Report recommends that SADC take a more aggressive role now by increasing its presence and power in Zimbabwe, as many of the intimidation practices deployed in previous elections are already underway.

When asked by email about the prospects for an earlier election date, Piers Pigou suggests that President Mugabe’s recent insistence on June elections is most likely Mugabe’s attempt to secure an election date before September, as it seems impossible to have elections at the end of June, unless the MDC would for some reason “acquiesce to this irresponsibility.”  Most importantly, Pigou emphasizes that the “politics of fear retains currency and continues to manifest at various levels.”  He also believes that the recently reported outburst by General Constantine Chiwenga against Prime Minister Tsvangirai, where Chewenga reportedly called Tsvangirai a “psychiatric patient” and a “sell-out”, is part of a strategy to test the waters in terms of what will be allowable this election, to see “how far can they push before it provokes pushback.

The region needs to respond sharply to this kind of professionally irresponsible statement, but I fear they will continue to tiptoe around a number of these issues.” Pigou indicated that the SADC Trioka meeting this Friday (10th May) will hopefully provide some clarity on SADC’s position vis-í -vis election dates and monitoring.

The ICG Report also hints that a deal has likely been made between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to continue to share power after elections, but this does not rule out the threat of violence from a number of different actors, nor does it guarantee Tsvangirai recourse should the election process go against him.

The ICG Report explores various election scenarios for Zimbabwe that are worth serious contemplation (see below), especially by Western media and policy makers who should not be “˜shocked’ when confronted with these possible outcomes in the near future. None of the outcomes are particularly rosy, all the more reason to pay careful attention to this Report and to explore the dysfunctional Zimbabwean political landscape now before Zimbabwe and the region is faced with another “˜crisis’ without adequate preparation or contingency plans.

As a SW Radio Africa story notes, the ICG Report has identified “…a worrying trend by the international community which appears to emphasise “˜credible and peaceful’, rather than “˜free and fair’ elections, with no agreement on what constitutes credible.” The recent EU and the US rapprochement with ZANU-PF that links “credible and peaceful” elections to further lifting of targeted sanctions and new investments are only raising the stakes for another “all or nothing” election outcome in 2013.

Below is the ICG Reports Executive Summary and Recommendations. The full Report is available here.

Zimbabwe: Election Scenarios

Africa Report N°202 6 May 2013


As the Global Political Agreement (GPA) staggers to an end, continued violations of the agreement, reform deficits, limited institutional credibility and the rejection of a UN election needs assessment mission underscore the continued absence of conditions for peaceful and credible elections, despite the new constitution adopted in March 2013. President Robert Mugabe has been forced to step back from a June vote, but his party still pushes for an expedited process with little time to implement outstanding reforms and new constitutional provisions. The pervasive fear of violence and actual intimidation contradicts rhetorical commitments to peace. A reasonably free vote is still possible, but so too are deferred or disputed polls, or even a military intervention. The international community seems ready to back the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which must work with GPA partners to define and enforce “red lines” for a credible vote.

The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is likely to resist further reforms. SADC places particular emphasis on democracy supporting institutions, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) faces significant challenges. Limited government funding threatens its capacity building, public outreach and ability to ensure the integrity of the voters’ roll. The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) resigned, citing the body’s lack of independence and government support, and was replaced by another commissioner with close ties to ZANU-PF. The GPA’s Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) plays an important role in responding to political conflict, but has insufficient support and addresses symptoms, not causes, of violence and intimidation.

Certain pro-ZANU-PF security officials may seek to influence the polls. Some have demanded greater political representation; they played a pivotal role in the 2008 violence that secured Mugabe’s victory, for which none were held accountable. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has demonstrated some professionalism, but its leaders openly support ZANU-PF and frequently harass Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and civil society, which the MDC-Tsvangirai has been powerless to prevent. The GPA provides no basis for credible investigations of the police (or other security elements), which refuse to answer to the co-ministers of home affairs or JOMIC and expose parliament as largely toothless. Political parties face internal challenges. Within ZANU-PF, “hardliner” and “reformist” camps are fighting over who will succeed 89-year-old Mugabe. MDC-T is struggling with a reported drop in popularity, infighting and limited capacity to mobilise its supporters.

The international community assesses Zimbabwe’s progress positively, demonstrating its support for SADC’s facilitation. The constitutional referendum enabled the European Union (EU) to lift restrictive measures against most of the individuals and entities (excluding Mugabe, his wife Grace, a small group of security officials and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation). Zimbabwe and the UK subsequently held their first bilateral talks in over a decade, and a “Friends of Zimbabwe” meeting that offered economic support and the lifting of sanctions against two Zimbabwean banks by the U.S. shows Western commitment to supporting Zimbabwe’s reform.

SADC’s priority is “containment” even more than reforms to maintain stability. This objective remains vague, but the organisation must consolidate its promotion of reforms in compliance with its election guidelines. Reforms require monitoring, but JOMIC’s capacity for this is limited and ZANU-PF’s resistance to extending its mandate to focus on elections has frustrated SADC. The regional bloc should establish an office in Harare that complements JOMIC but allows it to independently liaise with the government.

If the impasse on election reforms persists, the vote may be rescheduled. Political leaders recognise that to proceed when the risk of large-scale violence is high and when parties and SADC disagree over what constitutes an acceptable threshold for credible elections would be dangerous. Faced with divisions that threaten their performance in the polls, ZANU-PF and MDC-T may back postponement.

Deferral, if accompanied by firm SADC pressure, presents opportunities to promote reforms, on condition that strict timelines are defined, monitoring is enhanced significantly, political parties understand the risks of failure, and institutional weaknesses and the potential for interference by the security sector are reversed. Otherwise, the “winner-take-all” attitude means the election is likely to be hotly disputed. Some in ZANU-PF feel threatened by the erosion of economic opportunities that would come with losing power, while others fear prosecution for human rights violations. For the MDC-T, an electoral defeat would signify a loss of influence. For ZANU-PF, disputing the results could mean increased influence by bringing the country to a standstill.

A conclusive election requires that all parties and their supporters accept results. There are indications that Mugabe and Tsvangirai have agreed to do so and accommodate whoever loses. However, such a deal does not automatically translate into acceptance by their parties. Tsvangirai has agreed to be the GPA principals’ point man on election preparations, which could make it more difficult for him or his party to cry foul or withdraw because of irregularities. The waters are already muddied by the MDC-T’s acquiescence in the referendum, which proceeded according to the interests of the GPA signatories, disregarding the concerns of other political groups and of civil society.

A military takeover is unlikely, not least because of uncertainty about the political allegiance of the rank and file, probable regional censure and international isolation. However, allegations of the army’s bias and complicity in human rights violations raise concerns it may seek to influence the election outcome. It may also present itself as a stabilising force if inter- and intra-party relations deteriorate further.

2013 is a decisive year. Elections in a context of acute divisions are unlikely to provide stability. There is growing sense that the best way forward is further power sharing, though this is only helpful if objectives are established and widely accepted. To note that Zimbabwe is less violent now than in 2008 means little before the campaign – it is the competition for power that generates violence. That the elections are likely to be tense and see some violence and intimidation is clear; what is not yet clear is the nature of the violence, its extent and the response it will generate.


To define and build consensus on the election roadmap

To the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC):

1.  Facilitate further discussions among the GPA parties to address the lack of consensus and clarity on reforms following the constitutional referendum.

To enhance oversight on the political process toward elections


2.  Convene a dedicated heads of state summit on Zimbabwe that emphasises roadmap compliance with the SADC “Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections” and that:

a) establishes a liaison office in Harare to monitor and evaluate electoral preparations and facilitate prompt response when necessary;

b) defines “red lines”, strict benchmarks and clear measures for non-compliance by the GPA parties to the agreed roadmap; and

c) establishes clear monitoring and observation roles in the election.

To the Global Political Agreement principals:

3.  Take a more hands-on role to expedite and ensure implementation of agreements and GPA commitments, as well as the resolution of outstanding disagreements, in particular:

a) conduct the outstanding annual review of GPA implementation as stipulated in Article 23 relating to the periodic review mechanism;

b) ensure SADC officials deployed to JOMIC during the constitutional referendum remain in place until after the elections; and

c) resolve disagreements preventing the deployment of additional JOMIC provincial monitors.

4.  Direct JOMIC to independently investigate allegations regarding state security forces’ partisanship and political interference.

5.  Extend JOMIC’s mandate to cover the election period (including before and after the vote) and make provision for holding political party leadership accountable to the GPA and the election roadmap.

To the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee:

6.  Operationalise additional teams recruited in 2012 to complement existing teams working with the Operation Committee.

7.  Increase outreach, cooperation and collaboration with civil society and faith-based organisations.

To preserve and consolidate political coexistence

To GPA principals:

8.  Encourage political tolerance and coexistence across party lines through frequent joint press conferences, calling for non-violence, inter-party dialogue and responding to particular concerns and incidents.

To strengthen the electoral process and institutions

To GPA principals:

9.  Allow the UN needs assessment mission to return to Zimbabwe to conduct an assessment that can help address the lack of confidence in electoral processes and systems.

10.  Resource fully and operationalise the ZHRC so it can discharge its mandate before, during and after elections.

11.  Appoint staff to ZEC with a view to addressing concerns about alleged political bias set out in the draft election roadmap.

To address the politicisation of the security services and state institutions


12.  Utilise its security structures and processes to facilitate high-level engagement between senior military, police and intelligence officials from the region and Zimbabwe to persuade the security sector not to interfere in the political process.

13.  Require an electoral code of conduct for police, military and intelligence services that can be endorsed by SADC heads of state.

To GPA principals:

14.  Hold regular National Security Council meetings as the elections draw near to mitigate disagreement and develop consensus.

15.  Ensure security officials making partisan public statements are censured or sanctioned.

To build a sustainable democratic transition in Zimbabwe


16.  Ensure the country does not rush into elections before there is clarity and consensus on, and practical implementation of, necessary reforms.

Johannesburg/Brussels, 6 May 2013

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One thought on “Zimbabwe Elections Scenarios: New ICG Report Cuts Through the Political Posturing

  1. I personally did not like the organization that produced the report- The International Crisis Group. It is mainly sponsored by George Soros and his Open Foundations. We all know who George Soros is and his goals. And I don’t understand why a ‘peace seeking organization’ should have a former NATO commander (Wesley Clark) on its BOT. And why such an organization also relies/ needs Oil Companies like BP, Chevron, Statoil on its advisory council. I mean it is supposed to rely on UNDP, UNICEF etc.

    The contents of the report are largely uncontroversial but as the ‘review above’ it is somehow an attempt to ”explore a dyfunctional Zim political landscape” and wants the ”region to prepare facing another ‘crisis’.”- which I think is an oversold speculation now seeming as the reality. But the ‘senarios’ are largely exaggerated and in my view distant to the new reality in the Zim political field. No one is prepared for another 2008, and Zimbabweans are not stupid enough to go back there.

    If the elections are held before August the better. Not only because it is what the Constitution requires as any other contitutional democracy, but even those who rely on violence for votes(not many,as some want) will not be allowed to mess up the UNWTO in August.
    The argument that we need more time to finalize up security and media reforms is an excuse from unprepared MDC. If there were no reforms for the last 4 years, how will they miraculously come in the last 2 months of GPA. Everyone in his/her pragmatic mind knows it won’t happen, but as a delay tactic MDC thinks it can work out an election plan then. But it must be careful as more peole are ‘defecting’ to ZANU everyday, because of frustration on a number of issues. By the time MDC will think they are ready, ZANU will be having decisive votes.
    Maybe ZANU will not need the violence or rigging by then.

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