Zimbabwe’s 2018 harmonized elections will take place against a backdrop of 18 years of political crisis. During this period, severe limits on political space and a series of elections, some characterized by violence, and widely perceived as flawed, weakened public confidence in democratic institutions and the electoral system. These elections will take place less than a year after the military intervention that led to Robert Mugabe’s removal from power after 37 years and the appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa as president.
The IRI-NDI delegation heard a clear and unambiguous message of hope for a new future from all the Zimbabweans they came into contact with. It received unanimous reports that the country’s political climate has changed markedly since last November. It is the responsibility of all the election actors to take the steps necessary to build confidence with the people that these elections can usher in a new democratic dispensation.
However, concerted efforts will be required to restore the public’s faith in the country’s institutions and set the country on a new trajectory. Therefore, the 2018 harmonized elections must break with the past and be widely perceived as inclusive, transparent and accountable. To achieve this objective, the reforms must do more than just adhere to the letter of the law, show more than just incremental improvements, and result in more than just peaceful elections. This standard is consistent with the SADC guidelines, which call for elections to be peaceful, but also “free and fair, transparent, and accountable”, while at the same time accounting for the cumulative effect of nearly two decades of flawed elections.
The IRI-NDI delegation found notable improvements in the political environment and electoral preparations as compared to prior elections. However, a number of significant opportunities to break with the past and restore confidence in advance of the polls have been missed thus far. As a result, concerns remain about the fairness of the process.
Given Zimbabwe’s history and the fact that the current government assumed power not through a normal election process but through a military intervention, extraordinary steps are required to achieve the widespread perception of fairness, which is as important as the realization of fairness itself. These steps should be based on the premise that the credibility of the upcoming elections are the responsibility of political parties and candidates running for office, the institutions mandated to provide oversight, and all those who vote on election day. With seven weeks remaining to election day, the opportunity still exists to take constructive steps to enhance the inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability of the electoral process.Top