WITH the second anniversary of Zimbabwe’s controversial Global Political Agreement (GPA) having passed last month, there is increasing focus on the likelihood of elections.
Despite the Parliamentary Select Committee (Copac) setting September 30 2011 as the date for the constitutional referendum, thereby increasing the likelihood that elections are deferred until 2012, there continues to be uncertainty as to whether key political players will gear up for the event this year, especially Zanu PF.
A key element is the advanced age of President Robert Mugabe, currently considered to be the best candidate to lead Zanu PF into the polls.
Mugabe would most likely want to organise, and preferably win, elections at the earliest possible date in order to reinforce his party’s hold on power.
Yet analysts highlight the lack of significant economic and political progress as grounds for delaying elections until conditions have become more favourable.
There are three likely scenarios for Zimbabwe as we enter 2011: elections could be held in the wake of a full implementation of the GPA; or in the context of a continued stalemate and no agreement between the principals on the outstanding issues; or, finally, elections could be postponed until the full implementation of the GPA.
For the first scenario to occur, one needs to assume that the principals to the transitional power-sharing arrangement have come to an agreement on the most important of the still outstanding issues, including among others, all parties confirming and approving key government appointments, the allocation of vacant positions to the designated individuals, and the resolution of the issue of sanctions in one way or another.
One must further assume that the process is taking place under a new constitution. In this best-case scenario, the international donor community would readily pledge technical and other support for an election.
Sadc, as guarantor of the GPA, and South Africa as its designated facilitator, could not only provide additional support, but could also mark the occasion as a victory for regional intervention in the spirit of “African solutions to African problems”.
Electoral observers would be posted well before the event to ensure preparations run smoothly and without violence and intimidation.
Many believe that such a scenario would bring about an election victory for the MDC.
Since several Zanu PF hardliners are reluctant to accept an MDC win, there is a real probability of a repeat of the violence and intimidation witnessed in 2008 to prevent this from happening, particularly given the history of violence in several previous elections. Should the MDC still emerge victorious, it is doubtful that the security sector — most importantly the members of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) and other hardliners within Zanu PF — would accept the economic and political uncertainty that such an outcome would pose for their futures.
The more likely scenario is that the elections are scheduled for 2011 without the full implementation of the GPA.
While it would certainly be more difficult for the international community to pledge their support, such support might still be forthcoming. However, this would prove a difficult process to manage.
Electoral observation would most likely be restricted to only allow the presence of certain regional and continental bodies. Again, there is a high probability of violence as those opposed to the transitional process apply the same tactics of intimidation in support of Zanu PF as they did in 2008.
More importantly, regardless of whether the MDC emerges victorious or not, and given the uncompromising attitude of Zanu PF ever since the power-sharing agreement was signed, the latter would surely not accept an electoral defeat.
One might therefore see a repeat of a negotiation process that would ultimately lead to a new transitional arrangement between the major parties.
In both scenarios outlined above, in other words in the case of elections being held this year, with or without the full implementation of the GPA, much depends on the behaviour of the security sector and high-ranking officers within that sector. This group must be presented with a viable, alternative source of income and some guarantee that they will not be prosecuted for wrongs committed against the population in support of Zanu PF.
Without any such assurances, they will most likely remain resistant to a transition that ultimately holds little room for them.
The Joint Operations Command (Joc) — a national security think-tank made up of army, police, prisons and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) chiefs — still appears to maintain an influence on decision-making processes within Zanu PF. High-ranking military officers continue to occupy management positions in state-owned companies, and retired or redeployed officers hold positions as permanent secretaries in the civil service.
Also, Joc spearheaded the violent campaign to reduce support for the MDC during the 2008 elections, and they would likely face prosecution for crimes committed against the civilian population, particularly during this period.
It has been shown elsewhere that the transformation of security institutions is critical for the success of any political transition. Only once security institutions begin to put citizens’ interest at the centre instead of protecting the interests of a select few, will there be movement towards creating the stable and secure national environment in which development can thrive and be sustained.
The third, more promising scenario is where elections are delayed due to the continued lack of progress in fully implementing the GPA. This would reflect recognition that the conditions for convening elections that could be considered free and fair by all participating parties had not been met. It is doubtful that the parties that constitute the transitional government would utilise the additional time to resolve the perpetual dispute over senior political appointments, since they had not managed to make any headway on this issue nearly two years after inauguration.
However, the time could be used to complete and implement crucial processes, such as drafting the constitution, conducting a land audit, and addressing the need for security sector transformation, to name but a few.
In this third scenario, it matters less whether the GPA is fully implemented, for all parties would have bought more time to complete and implement processes instrumental to rebuilding the state, thereby cementing the democratisation process.
The constitution-making process is but one example with proceedings currently months behind schedule, having yet to process the data from the public outreach exercise needed to draft the document. It would, therefore, be difficult to schedule a referendum on time, much less hold a national election by rnid-2011.
If it were possible to delay elections, focus could instead turn to the mammoth tasks of facilitating sustainable economic recovery, addressing the issue of ownership rights, conducting a land audit, ensuring that the wealth created from the mining sector is directed to state coffers and not siphoned off into the pockets of individuals, and addressing issues of reconciliation and justice.
This would require the political will of all stakeholders to agree on and implement the policy reforms required to facilitate the transitional process and in so doing, effect lasting change in Zimbabwe.
Judy Smith-Hohn is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa – http://www.theindependent.co.zw