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Post-election Zimbabwe: what next?

Africa Report NВ°93

International Crisis Group

7 June 2005

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On 31 March 2005, Zimbabweans went to the polls to elect 120 members of the sixth parliament. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) secured 78 seats, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) 41, while one went to the independent former Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo. President Robert Mugabe used his discretionary power to appoint another 30 hand-picked members, bringing ZANU-PF's total to 108, more than the twothirds majority in a body of 150 that allows it to amend the constitution without regard for opposition views. Rather than change Zimbabwe's difficult political and social dynamic, the results indicate the status quo will hold, at least in the short-term.1

As with most previous Zimbabwe elections, opinion was sharply split as to whether the exercise was free and fair. Observers from the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and South Africa endorsed the elections as reflecting "the will of the people" of Zimbabwe.2 The opposition MDC and major international players such as the U.S. and UK called them neither free nor fair. A number of Zimbabwean civil society organisations also weighed in with reports highly critical of the elections, including the Crisis Coalition, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwean Election Support Network. Citing discrepancies in the initial and final vote tallies, the MDC claimed it had actually won 94, rather than 41 races3, released a dossier detailing vote count discrepancies in 30 constituencies4, and said it would challenge some of the results in the new election court.5 On 13 April 2005, it put out a report, "Stolen - How the elections were rigged", in support of its claims.6

Crisis Group considers that by any objective standard, the election was neither free nor fair. While the means employed to capture the election were more sophisticated and less violent than in the past, the result was the same. To find otherwise, it was necessary to look past ZANUPF's systematic use of propaganda, violence, electoral manipulation, targeted disenfranchisement and abuse of humanitarian relief.

The immediate post-election period was tense. Some within MDC indicated they had reached the limits of competing on an uneven electoral playing field and would need to adopt a more confrontational stand. There was some talk of mass protests but the situation did not evolve as in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where street demonstrations led to reversal of results or revolutionary change.7 The government threatened to crack down on any public demonstrations. Several hundred young people did take to the streets of Harare on 4 April to protest but the effort was quickly put down8, and the MDC denied responsibility.9 Arrests of opposition supporters have increased in the post-election period, and the government has also simultaneously renewed a crackdown on nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). A Zimbabwean political analyst observed:
    The occasional hand of peace is usually extended in the aftermath of national elections, dating back to 1980. But what we see immediately is a very predictable ZANU-PF behavior. At this stage, almost 100 MDC activists, supporters and "losing" candidates [and] leaders have been arrested since 31 March. Some of them, such as Nelson Chamisa have been either severely roughed up or have alleged torture. MDC meetings in constituencies are either being disrupted or not permitted by a partisan ZRP [Zimbabwe Republic Police] with the support and direction of ZANU-PF.10
The effort to replace Mugabe and his regime through competition in an electoral environment where they set all the rules has failed. The 81-year old president cannot rule forever, however, and brutal infighting has already broken out inside ZANU-PF among would-be successors. The international community and Zimbabwe's opposition face difficult policy decisions about how to relate to and influence this phenomenon and shape the post-Mugabe future.

  1. For further information on the situation in Zimbabwe, see Crisis Group Africa Reports NВ°86, Zimbabwe: Another Election Chance, 30 November 2005; NВ°85, Blood and Soil: Land, Politics and Conflict Prevention in Zimbabwe and South Africa, 17 September 2004; NВ°78, Zimbabwe: In Search of a New Strategy, 19 April 2004; NВ°60, Zimbabwe: Danger and Opportunity, 10 March 2003; Crisis Group Africa Briefing NВ°15, Decision Time in Zimbabwe, 8 July 2003.
  2. Statement by the leader of the South African Observer Mission, Minister of Labour Membathisi Mdladlana, 2 April 2005, available at 0414451001.htm. The election was also called "technically competent" and "well managed". Crisis Group interview with Senior SADC observer, Harare, 1 April 2005; Crisis Group telephone interview with a member of the African Union observer team, 3 April 2005; See also "Zimbabwe Opposition Demands New Election", Associated Press, 4 April 2005.
  3. Speaking to the MDC leadership as the vote counting commenced, Crisis Group found the party anticipated victory. The party discouraged spontaneous post-election protests by supporters, saying it would be necessary for it to be seen to be "responsible". Crisis Group, interview with senior MDC leaders, 31 March 2005.
  4. "MDC say Mugabe rigged the count",, 6 April 2005.
  5. "Zimbabwe opposition to challenge poll", The Independent (UK), 10 April 2005.
  6. "MDC contests 13 seats", The Herald, 14 April 2005.
  7. Both MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo called for peaceful protests. "Govt will not tolerate post-election demonstrations" IRIN, 30 March 2005.
  8. "Harare demo against poll results", Daily News, 4 April 2005; "Zimbabwe police crush anti-Mugabe protests",, 5 April 2005.
  9. "Zimbabwe youth leader arrested over riot -- radio", Reuters, 7 April 2005.
  10. Crisis Group correspondence, 13 April 2005; also, "Murder as retribution campaign gains momentum", ZimOnline, 2 May 2005, a news report alleging the killing of an MDC member by ZANU-PF militants as part of a retribution campaign, especially in Matabeleland South, Mashonaland West and Manicaland provinces.

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