This gave Emerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former confidante turned foe, a tremendous opportunity to organise the elections in his own liking. And he did exactly that, putting in place mechanisms to ensure whichever way the popular vote went, he would still emerge the victor. Would this, in any way, have been avoided? I would answer this question in the affirmative, and proceed to explain why.
The MDC, right from the very beginning of this year, knew the electoral laws, and the “rules of the electoral game” as it were, did not favour them. These were laws nurtured over time by Mugabe’s one-party state, and the state only opened some sluice gates to allow the opposition to present candidates for Parliament and not for the coveted seat of the President.
The presidency has always been fiercely fought for under the watch of Mnangagwa, and had at all the time been “won” by Mugabe. To expect Mnangagwa to have turned from a repressive Saul into a democratic Paul over night was a tall order. Yet, Nelson Chamisa, and his MDC brigade, believed with the people’s power behind them, they would triumph at the polls no matter what Mnangagwa did. Mistake number one. But why so?
Mnangagwa would not have overthrown Mugabe had his main aim been simply to restore democratic rule in Zimbabwe. Methinks his main aim was to ascend to power, keep and enjoy it at all costs. This aim is currently being realised at the expense of the Zimbabwean people, who went to the polls to elect their leaders in an election they believed would be free and fair.
I am almost sure, however, that Mnangagwa and his party, Zanu-PF, will definitely contend the elections were indeed free and fair, and it is the opposition that is becoming a sore loser. They will no doubt point to an electoral commission that managed the polls without any let or hindrance, people who actually voted and votes that were counted and announced. It will then be incumbent upon the opposition to prove where anything went wrong.
The opposition, on its turn, knowing full well that they could not, in any way, have “the inside story” on how the election was run, have their own reports compiled by their agents telling a very different story from that of the electoral commission. Where does this, then, lead us to? A gridlock, typical of the elections in Kenya in December 2007.
No wonder the immediate outcome of the elections were riots and violence on the streets of Harare, followed by wanton killings by security forces in the name of restoring law and order. The scene is then set for unresolvable disagreements between Zanu-PF and MDC as both claim victory. Yet the only test and proof of who actually won the election would be a word from the electoral commission. If the word favours MDC, Zanu-PF would perhaps impose their own version of the results on the people using military might. Were the results to favour Zanu-PF, the masses would be mobilised in their millions by MDC to come out and “resist the stealing of the elections.”
The moral of this story is simple: Authoritarian regimes are, by their very nature, incapable of conducting free and fair elections. It is simply not in their nature to do so. Democracy undermines and negates authoritarian rule. When a society is found in a period of transition from authoritarianism to democracy, such a society needs “an intermediate regime” to midwife or husband democratic transition. Zimbabwe will need such an intermediate regime to be established after these elections. It is such a regime that can, if not sabotaged by some retrograde social forces, nurture the framework for democratic governance.
In many ways, the coalition government in Kenya (2008-13), forged after the post-election crisis of 2007-08, was such a transition regime. It managed to nurture a democratic constitution with a very progressive Bill of Rights. The Constitution embodied rules of the electoral game that could guarantee very successful democratic elections, if implemented properly by the electoral commission. The polls agency was, however, not very well architectured so as to insulate it from social forces ready to subvert the electoral process to serve their own selfish and sectarian interests.
More important, however, is the fact that a presidential system of government in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies like those in Kenya and Zimbabwe where holding state power is key to access to public goods and economic advantages in exclusion of “others”, tends to veer towards authoritarian rather than democratic rule. And when elections are seen as a hindrance to access to such goods and advantages, then the elections have to be subverted for the sake of access to, and maintenance of, state power. What will this mean for Zimbabwe?
The Zimbabweans must accept first and foremost that neither Zanu-PF nor MDC can, AT THE MOMENT, rule the country alone: Both need an intermediate regime to create the necessary political framework for a transition to democratic rule. The nature of this intermediate regime cannot be prescribed in theory. It has to be crafted out of the current politics and congruence of social forces in Zimbabwe. But it must at least be accepted as legitimate by both forces, as representing their interests and the collective interest of the Zimbabwean society at large.
This means, therefore, that the political parties must look beyond the contestants in the election although these represent the most tangible political feelings and interests in society. But there are those who have ideas of where society should go, how the looming crisis can be dealt with, and the extent to which “a new Zimbabwe” is possible.
I am here referring to the intelligentsia as a whole: Journalists, academics, religious leaders and community leaders who may, for good reasons, not be very active in competitive electoral politics. Quite often those who “observe from outside” but have keen interests on what is going on can be very useful in providing useful “road maps” to be followed by society so as to get out of danger.
In many ways, the “national conferences” held in many West African countries in the early 1990s — as the multiparty movement rocked authoritarian regimes in Africa — are good examples of how diverse social forces can come together to chart “a democratic way forward” for a society exiting from authoritarian rule to democracy. That many of those national conferences did not lead to the birth of new democracies in West Africa is not enough reason to discredit them: There are other national conferences in history that have turned around nations from non-democratic regimes to democratic ones. The meeting of minds between the apartheid regime and the ANC on the urgent need for democratic transition in South Africa no doubt changed history for the better for the people of that country.
The leaders of the Zimbabwean political forces do not need to far to learn what to do at this juncture to save the people of Zimbabwe from sinking into a political abyss.