HARARE – There are escalating fears of vote rigging that could lead to President Robert Mugabe winning with the outcome likely to result in violence and chaos, analysts say.
Critics have expressed fears that the country’s chaotic and drawn-out transition was entering an unexpected period of uncertainty.
Five presidential candidates are standing on the July 31 election, seen as a crucial test of the inclusive government.
Only two candidates, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, are reckoned by polls and analysts to have any chance of success and the lack of any precedent means that few are daring to predict the outcome.
With Mugabe and Tsvangirai in a statistical dead heat, the leading two will go through to a second round of voting next month if no one manages to garner over 50 percent of the July 31 vote tally.
A sudden surge in support for Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist and Prime Minister in the inclusive government, has led to widespread concerns that the military is plotting to hijack the secretariat of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) as MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti claims happened during the special vote and retain their preferred man in power.
The vote, intended to unify this long-divided nation could slip further into uncertainty, as a heated tug-of-war is likely to emerge, analysts have warned.
The outcome of the election could potentially open a new chapter for the country but also increasing the risk of political violence in this onetime economic powerhouse that has long since fallen on hard times.
Ibbo Mandaza, director of Harare-based think-tank Sapes Trust, said Zanu PF has lost its social base over the years and its survival was purely on the basis of its reliance on an unevenly strong State.
“Zanu PF’s only social base is the State; powerful disproportionate State which controls the media and the security,” Mandaza told a recent civil society conference in Johannesburg.
He argued that 60 percent of the newly registered voters were likely to vote against Zanu PF given the tendency for new voters to go against the incumbent, adding Mugabe has won elections through rigging since 1996.
He however, postulated that the stakes are so high that if elections are allowed to be rigged, the outcome will result in violence, chaos and the poll will be disputed hence a possible military coup, forcing regional and international intervention and the possibility of another GPA.
Political violence has long been a staple here, with attacks by pro-Mugabe militia groups punctuating public life for more than a decade.
Mandaza said: “If the art of rigging which remains the sole survival kit for Zanu PF is exposed and in the absence of any method to ensure their victory, the party may call off the elections by unleashing violence and chaos to disrupt the process.”
Describing the poll as a “high stakes election” where Zanu PF actors individually or collectively could not let go, rigorous scrutiny of the electoral process was needed to get Zanu PF out of office, Mandaza said.
Analysts warn that the obtaining situation in Zimbabwe indicates that the election is heading for dispute.
“Zimbabwe’s political terrain is constant flux of shifting sands,” said McDonald Lewanika, executive director of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. “Elections are only one thing that is supposed to be uncertain.”
He said the election has been blighted by scarcity of financial resources, side-stepping of Parliament and presidential decrees on election date, “questionable” Constitutional Court rulings and a barrage of cases before the Con-Court challenging the decision to hold the elections on July 31.
“There has been no transparency in the drawing up and implementation of procedures that govern the conduct of the election which has seen the use of presidential decree using Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act through statutory instruments SI 85 and 86,” Lewanika said.
“We have also seen the disregard of Sadc resolutions in Maputo calling for the inclusive government of Zimbabwe to undertake immediate measures to create a conducive environment for the holding of peaceful, credible, free and fair elections.
“Zimbabwe is not heeding calls from the region; laws are selectively aligned while pieces of legislation like Posa, Aippa which curtail free political activities are still in place.
“There hasn’t been fair and equal coverage of contesting candidates and plural sources of information in the media, while political parties seem to be purveyors of journalists’ intimidation and harassment.”
Political analyst Brian Raftopolous believes Zanu PF will steal victory riding on a restructured political economy and the threat of violence.
Raftopolous said this was the most likely scenario based on the inclusive government’s failure to fully implement political and institutional reforms in accordance with the Global Political Agreement (GPA), “hence Zanu PF is able to manipulate the electoral process to ensure its victory.”
He said Zanu PF will steal the election through subtle means such as the manipulation of the voter registration exercise, lack of media and security reforms, amongst other crucial reforms.
An outright victory by Tsvangirai was also a likely scenario, with that victory facing resistance from the military.
Raftopolous intimated that there were clear signs that power might not be handed over easily.
A former trade unionist, Tsvangirai has weathered the vicissitudes of this country’s turbulent politics for years, including an attempt on his life and treason charges.
The third possible scenario is a possibility of another negotiated settlement as the country may have another hung Parliament.
“This scenario emanates from a totally disputed election marred by intimidation and violence,” Raftopolous said. “This is likely to force intervention by Sadc and the African Union (AU) and another negotiated settlement will be the solution.”
The long-awaited vote has been a significant international concern, prompting Sadc to warn officials in Zimbabwe to fully implement the GPA and to say it was ready to take “appropriate measures.”
The Mugabe government, however, has been relatively impervious to international pressure, brushing off repeated calls to stage a fair contest.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni, head of the Archie Mafeje Research Institute of the University of South Africa (Unisa), said given the prevailing conditions on the ground, Zimbabwe cannot expect conditions for free and fair elections in the remaining two weeks.
He reiterated the need to make this an “issues-based election”, urging the electorate to seriously consider what the political parties are promising in their manifesto to avoid a “choice less democracy” after elections.
He expressed worry that most people seem to believe that the holding of the forthcoming election will be the end of Zimbabwe’s problems, yet, “it was just a stepping stone towards democracy.”