The pitfalls of the 2023 elections

August 29, 2022

Tawanda Majoni

One thing that many people might not be seeing right now is that the 2023 general elections have already started.

That’s for the simple reason that elections are not just about a few days before, during and a few days after vote casting, when the ballots are being counted and tallied. Elections start months before polling day and last for months after the polls.

Delimitation of electoral boundaries is underway and is expected to be completed by December. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is looking at and handling the voters’ roll—as far as its eyes can see and its hands can stretch, of course. We don’t know much about budget preparations, but that’s likely to happen more visibly after the national budget later this year.

Zanu PF is restructuring, but you can’t say the same thing about CCC, which says it believes in structure-lessness. And what’s clear is that the main political parties, CCC and Zanu PF, have already started their political campaigns. That’s why you see that such movements like MenBelievED are holding rallies. That’s not just to hasten President Mnangagwa’s turf ahead of the October congress. It’s also to bolster his position as the Zanu PF presidential candidate in 2023.

Similarly, that’s the reason why Nelson Chamisa is going around the country on cruiser rallies. That’s, ultimately, to bolster his position as the CCC presidential candidate in 2023 too.

And, as you have just seen, prospective candidates are getting busy illegally parceling out urban land to hapless voters.

Here is the thing now. What happens before, during and after polls determines whether or not the elections are good elections. It decides whether the elections are free, fair and credible, forgive this political cliché. If what happens before polling is bad, then the fairness, freeness and credibility of the elections are dented.

Big problem is, what is already happening is highly likely to dent the freeness, fairness and credibility of the coming polls.

Number one, fear. No sane person will say an election is free, fair and credible if the electorate is full of fear. For where there is fear, choice is compromised. Even if the elections are going to go ahead next year and the usual culprits like SADC pass them as free, fair and credible, the truth of the matter is that what we are already witnessing is driving people into a ball of fear.

To the extent that, if you find time with the people, you will hear them say they would rather skip the country during the coming elections to avoid the violence that is gathering momentum by the day.

Violence begets fear. If you want to effectively manipulate the electorate, make it fearful. And this is one Machiavellian tactic that Zanu PF is very good at. Just this last week, Chamisa and his supporters became victims of Zanu PF violence in rural Wedza and Gokwe. If you want to appreciate the intensity of the violence, just watch that video of a Gokwe man whose lower left leg was cruelly charred by Zanu PF supporters. Watch also how hordes of state-of-the-art cars pursued Chamisa, his convoy and CCC supporters.

What’s particularly disturbing is that this violence seems to be systematic and state-sponsored. The police, for instance, were mere spectators. But this is understating things. The fact that they did not take action against the hooligans means that they were accomplices.  

You are likely to see this happening over and over again as we get closer to polling. Bad precedents have already been made. Towards the March by-elections, we saw the police bizarrely ban CCC rallies. We saw violence in places like Kwekwe and Epworth taking place with impunity, right under the nose of the law enforcers.

No police chief in the districts and provinces will dare give CCC free passage. The bigger bosses and the Zanu PF chefs are going to ask those that dare give Chamisa and his party space tough questions. Meaning that even if there are police area chiefs who still have a conscience, they will be haunted by the possibility of being labelled “enemy” sympathisers.

Then there is this thing called lawfare, whereby the sitting government and ruling party use the law to tighten screws on democracy. It’s happening at two levels. First, through the abuse of the Zanu PF majority in parliament, they have already passed laws—and are in the process of passing more—that will make it difficult for the opposition, the independent media and human rights defenders to operate.

The Cyber and Data Protection Act, for instance, will make it difficult for journalists to write stories based on information that can be considered to be invasion into data. Even where no such invasion has happened, journalists will still be thrown into the cooler just to fix them and keep them from hollering.

The PVO Amendment Bill, if passed into law, will give the ruling politicians the opportunity to interfere with the work of non-governmental organisations. We all know about that danger now. But it’s worse than that, where elections are directly concerned.

President Mnangagwa, inadvertently, betrayed one of the major motivations behind the PVO Bill. Just recently, he said the bill ould be passed into law to ensure that humanitarian non-profit organisations did not “abuse” the electorate through handouts. Do you know what he meant by that? Food is such big politics in Zimbabwe. Zanu PF has been using food “aid” to buy votes and manipulate the electorate, particularly rural voters. That’s bribery, of course. Thing is, that party wants to have an absolute monopoly over food aid and the attending manipulation. It doesn’t want the NGO sector to expose it by giving the aid for free. That would seriously constrict the party’s opportunity to bribe voters.

Secondly, lawfare comes in the form of what would seem as law enforcement and prosecution. It’s close to eighty days with the likes of Job Sikhala in detention on what seems to be spurious charges. Job is a senior CCC member. There are numerous other opposition members who have also been cast into the cooler. And many more will be persecuted as we ratchet towards the elections. When VP Chiwenga said they would crush the opposition like vermin, he was serious about it. They didn’t take power from Robert Mugabe to just surrender it to the opposition.

They will use every rod, line and hook to ensure that there are no reforms that would make elections free, fair and credible. It’s such a pity that reforms seem to be off the opposition’s agenda too.

What all this says is that, on a scale of one to 10, the 2023 elections will neither be free, fair, nor credible. What’s happening now is just the harbinger of what is to come and it’s bad enough as it were. We are likely to have the worst elections in Zimbabwe after the 2008 ones.

Here is the question now. What, then, must be done? There are five options. Number one, boycott the elections. The opposition must seriously consider boycotting the coming elections to avoid an inevitable defeat and avert giving the Zanu PF outfit a legitimacy it doesn’t deserve.

The worry, though, is that the opposition, meaning CCC, suffers the dual crisis of power hunger and delusion. While this is the best option available, it doesn’t seem likely that Chamisa and his team will take it seriously. These guys are so dazzled by the illusion of victory that they will wade into the river even though the crocs are looming. As has been seen in the past, getting votes at the polls is not the same thing as getting into power. You can win the ballots but not the power.

Number two, push for reforms. This is a hard sale. The opposition doesn’t have good numbers in the legislature. Worse still, it seems to think that it can win without the reforms. That’s why it’s pinning its hopes on getting young people to register to vote, as if that will be enough. Mugabe gave us a useful Freudian slip the other time when he said MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai had won the 2008 elections by 73 percent. But, after a month of “vote counting”, Mugabe had close to 50 percent and Tsvangirai less than 40 percent. And, of course, Zanu PF will not reform itself out of power.

Thirdly, dialogue. There is this thing about Zimbabwe’s political history. Landmark developments have come through dialogue. To be honest about our history, the nationalist movements would not have delivered victory for the black majority by 1979 were it not because of the Lancaster House talks. Ethnic cleansing stopped in 1987 due to the Unity Accord. Then there was the Global Political Agreement that gave birth to the coalition government in early 2009.

It’s, therefore, not farfetched to give dialogue as an option. This dialogue must be an all-stakeholder process ideally coordinated by acceptable international players.

The fourth option is a popular uprising whereby citizens brave the guns and pour into the streets to put pressure on the current regime to stop political persecutions, ensure there are reforms and admit failure. But this one is as dangerous as they come. It’s easy for the sitting government to accuse the protesters of treason and give it the excuse for a vicious clampdown.

Finally, a moratorium on elections. Given the possible hollowness of the 2023 elections and the high probability of them being disputed, it may also be worthwhile to consider an electoral hiatus for an agreed period. This would come as a product of dialogue.

The ultimate point, though, is that things don’t look right going into 2023, and something must be done.

Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on

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