Zim: Elections and the legitimacy question

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Tichaona Zindoga
About 10 days ago, statesman and former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan and leader of his eponymous foundation, waded into the debate on Zimbabwe and put forward the holding of credible elections as important for the country’s standing among the world’s family of nations.

Zimbabwe is undergoing a transition following the resignation of Cde Robert Mugabe as President on November 21 and his replacement by Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa in a self-cleaning exercise within the ruling Zanu-PF party after experiencing potentially damaging contradictions.

Amid the euphoria that greeted the new order —there had been marches at the weekend demanding the stepping down of the veteran leader — Annan said elections held the key to democracy and stability.

“General elections in Zimbabwe are already scheduled for 2018,” he noted.

“They present an historic opportunity for the voters of Zimbabwe to choose their leaders in a manner that confers full legitimacy on the winning candidate.

“That vital goal will only be achieved by safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process. This requires that all political parties and candidates are allowed to campaign openly and freely without intimidation; that the media is permitted to provide impartial coverage of the elections and the Zimbabwe voters are empowered and encouraged to vote for whomever they wish without fear or favour.”

He added: “We have seen how other African countries have suffered grave disappointments and violent setbacks during periods of political transition. I therefore urge the leadership of Zimbabwe – political and military – to promote and facilitate a transition to genuine democracy. All of the country’s leaders must put the interest of the nation first and work together to ensure the future peace, progress and prosperity of Zimbabwe.”

This submission by Annan is important in many respects.

Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe

The first and most important aspect is that it recognises the centrality of elections in conferring legitimacy to leadership and that process of elections should be free, fair and credible.

Zimbabwe has been saddled with the problem of elections that have not been globally endorsed, leading to the continued ostracisation of the country on the international arena.

Of course it is a known fact that some countries in the so-called international community – the US, Britain and the EU bloc — were not going to sit well with the idea of Robert Mugabe winning elections against the West’s preferred candidate in Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party.

But things have changed now.

“Monster” Mugabe is gone.

It means that whoever wins the next and earliest elections will have much less political baggage and it will be imperative to conduct elections that are deemed credible and in conformity with the rules that measure up to regional and international standards.

This is a challenge that President Mnangagwa should take seriously.

For his own part, he has said elections will be held when they are due, going against the tide of those who would have wanted the elections delayed for whatever reason, including the establishment of a hybrid governing structure.

So, the challenge is to have credible elections underpinned by reforms and conformity with instruments such as the Sadc Guidelines and Principles on the conduct of democratic elections.

The opposition MDC-T demands that the United Nations and Western countries be allowed to monitor Zimbabwe’s elections.

Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai

The opposition is known for making frivolous and sometimes quite nonsensical demands.

However, it may also be time for the ruling party to reconsider some positions such as the invitation of Western governments to monitor elections – with enough safeguards against them interfering undesirably in our processes.

That way, Zimbabwe could pre-empt some accusations and cynical positions by the country’s detractors.

There is no better way to do this than now, during Zimbabwe’s transition.

President Mnangagwa should have nothing to fear.

He has the goodwill of the people of Zimbabwe and even outsiders who have been looking for an escape route from their zero-sum games with Cde Mugabe.

The new leader of Zimbabwe is enjoying a rich, purple vein and has the right momentum going forward.

The recent events have robbed Zimbabwe’s detractors and the opposition of a key message – that of “Mugabe must go”.

He is gone!

On the level of ideas, the opposition is now complaining of having its ideas stolen by the new man in charge.

This is according to a story in the media a couple of days ago.

It will also be critical to note that the opposition itself has not been richly endowed with talent and ideas.

Bereft of the “Mugabe must go” mantra and whatever bare ideas that it disingenuously claims to have been robbed of, the opposition is quite bare.

Factor in, also, the fact that there is likely to be no hunger or natural disaster that may induce national anger and discontent which would bless the opposition with protest votes or politics of the stomach.

Zanu-PF has nothing to fear.

Some of us do not know, and have no evidence or reason to believe that the ruling party rigged elections — something that is underlined by the vacuity of claims such as the so-called Nikuv intervention and more laughably, the bussing in of West Africans to vote in Zimbabwe.

This should see Zimbabwe being open to the idea of having transparent and credible elections to the fullest extent that they are but shielded from undue external interference.

In other words, the elections must be credible and be seen to be a credible reflection of the people’s will.

That is where the question of legitimacy comes in.

It talks to the consent of the governed and the exercise of authority by whoever they choose.

Elections should give people the power, which they exercise to choose their rulers and the international community respects that.

At least in the ideal world, which Annan may have in mind.

But Zimbabwe has had the problem of certain countries that think that a “free and fair” or credible election is one that the opposition wins.

It is to be hoped that it was a superficial stance and one that served the purpose of withholding legitimacy to any government led by Cde Mugabe.

Which was vexatious, of course.

It reminds one of a conversation The Herald’s Political Editor had a couple months back in Johannesburg, South Africa, with International Crisis Groups’s Piers Pigou.

Pigou does not believe that Zimbabwe is capable of holding credible elections and hence the outcome is of questionable legitimacy.

However, all major indications and studies now show that the opposition in the country, weak, divided, broke and led by an ailing Morgan Tsvangirai, would lose any election to Zanu-PF – just like major pollsters and think tanks predicted in 2013.

Cde Mugabe, leading a mass and constantly mobilising Zanu-PF, would have easily won elections in 2018.

Why, then, would the so-called international community withhold endorsement of legitimacy of the people’s choice?

With the President Mnangagwa now set to take Cde Mugabe’s place on the ballot paper, the result will not be any different.

What is critical, though, will be to win over the detractors by leading a credible process that hopefully gives Zimbabwe a new lease of life.

And President Mnangagwa is right to seek that opportunity at the earliest possible time.

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