21 August, 2013

Implications of Zimbabwe's Flawed Elections

by Leon Hartwell

As a South African I am troubled by President Jacob Zuma’s appeal to Zimbabweans to “accept the outcome of the elections”. Why should our northern brothers and sisters accept elections that were not credible? Zuma’s statement is misleading as the real “outcome” of the elections is not the results. Rather it is the betrayal of an ideal for which our liberation heroes in the region fought. Zuma’s initial endorsement of the process disregards the long-term damage that this election will do to an important neighbour who has not yet successfully transitioned from independence to freedom.

Presidents Zuma and Mugabe in Harare (Photo: Government ZA)

President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF lay claim to the title of Zimbabwe’s “liberators” yet they continue to purposely confuse independence with freedom. Independence is simply self-rule; freedom is when a person’s liberty is promoted and protected by adherence to a host of rights. One of those fundamental rights is the right to vote under free and fair conditions.

Madiba linked his freedom to the idea of democracy. During the Rivonia Trial in 1964, Madiba stated, "I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Government exists not simply to rule, but to promote and provide a better life for its citizens. Consequently, the right to vote is essential as it acts as a cyclical safeguard to remove a government that fails to perform.

This year, Zimbabweans were once again deprived of truly exercising their right to vote under free and fair conditions. To be clear, the issue is not that ZANU-PF emerged as the winner of the elections. Rather, the electoral process leading up to ZANU-PF’s victory has not been credible, which will have implications for Zimbabwe. What makes matters worse is that the past three years - both politically and economically – have been some of the best years Zimbabwe has had in almost a decade and a half. A lot of the progress that was made could easily be reversed.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA), which came into being after Zimbabwe’s violent elections in 2008, gave birth to the Government of National Unity (GNU). The GPA was intended to "create a genuine, viable, permanent, sustainable and nationally acceptable solution to the Zimbabwe situation." In essence, it aimed to create a situation of sustainable peace and promote reforms in a host of areas that would make the government of Zimbabwe more accountable and democratic.

The GPA also forced political parties into a series of engagement and negotiation processes which helped to build trust. After several failed attempts by political parties since 1999 to change the highest law of the land, the GNU wrote and enacted a new Constitution earlier this year. Before the elections, actors across the political divide described the process leading up to the creation of the new Constitution as a form of “national healing”. Whether the same sentiments now prevail is doubtful.

The new Constitution could also easily be amended given ZANU-PF’s two-thirds majority in Parliament and the party’s history of tampering with the highest law of the land. Since 1987, ZANU-PF amended the Lancaster House Constitution, each time making it less democratic and accountable. In 1996, ZANU-PF changed the first section of the Bill of Rights to a preamble, thereby diluting fundamental rights. Within hours of the elections, in his capacity as Minister of Justice and ZANU-PF’s Deputy Secretary of Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa reportedly told the media that “the new Constitution may need cleaning up”. It is thus not unforeseeable that the Constitution will be amended.

Even if the Constitution remains unchanged for the time being, there is a risk that important aspects of it will not be implemented. The new Constitution was negotiated with the intent that certain reforms have to be undertaken, thereby changing the relationship between the state and her citizens. More than 90 percent of Zimbabweans, who voted in the Referendum in March 2013, endorsed the Constitution, which means the government has a duty to implement and respect it. Key institutions – like the media, the security sector, and the judiciary – were misused in the run up to the elections. Consequently, how likely is it that the reforms related to these institutions will be implemented? Why would the rule of law and the new Constitution be observed on a daily basis if so many laws were broken in an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the elections?

Economic implications of the flawed election could also be severe, and in the worst case scenario, have a negative impact on the political situation. The importance of the GNU was that it helped to stimulate Zimbabwe’s economy. After years of economic depression and inflation of 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion (i.e. 65 followed by 107 zeros) percent by December 2008, the Zimbabwean economy grew by more than 9% per annum in 2010 to 2011 before it slowed down to 5% in 2012.

Zimbabwe experienced economic growth, not only due to dollarization of the economy, but also because businesses had more confidence to invest in a country which they thought was moving in the right direction. Both local and foreign businesses will be particularly wary to invest in the Zimbabwean economy because the political and economic environment for the time being remains unpredictable.

During the peak of the crisis years (1998 to 2008), Zimbabweans preferred to acquire foreign assets and keep their money in foreign bank accounts because controversial money printing caused the Zimbabwean dollar to collapse overnight; people feared expropriation and did not have confidence that the economy will bounce back. A 2008 study by Léonce Ndikumana and James Boyce found that Zimbabwe’s external assets were 5.1 times higher than the country’s entire debt stocks, demonstrating a huge lack of trust in the Zimbabwean economy. Today, Zimbabweans remain wary of ZANU-PF’s policy as set out in its 2013 election manifesto to re-introduce the Zimbabwean dollar. Furthermore, according to ZANU-PF’s election manifesto, there could be major problems for the 1,138 “foreign-owned companies” that have been targeted for indigenization.

Zimbabwe’s external debt, which is said to be $10,7 billion, is unsustainable and requires careful management as well as possible debt forgiveness. It will be interesting to see how creditors will react to Zimbabwe’s flawed electoral process. If Zimbabwe is unable to deal with the debt situation and fails to channel more money (including diamond revenue) into the country’s treasury, then attempts to get lines of credit from non-transparent sources could increase, leaving the country in a more vulnerable position.

Zuma’s statement urging Zimbabweans to simply accept the results of the elections pays little attention to the seriousness of the situation at hand. Many Zimbabweans feel cheated because the credibility of the process that produced ZANU-PF’s victory was deeply flawed, thereby also betraying the essence of democracy. The implication is the return and increase of mistrust and suspicion, and possibly also the reversal of many political and economic achievements by the GNU. For the time being, the country’s transition from independence to freedom remains unresolved.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

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