HARARE – Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and African Union (AU) diplomatic intervention will be required to manage the fragile and potentially explosive aftermath of the July 31 vote, an influential think tank warned yesterday.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said as the country heads to the polls on Wednesday, the conditions in Zimbabwe — the polarisation, the skewed balance of power and the apparent determination of those with power not to give it up — mean that the elections are unlikely to prove a satisfactory mechanism for determining who holds office.
“Depending on the specific nature of shortcomings at the polls or with regard to the results and their domestic acceptance, Sadc and AU diplomatic intervention will almost certainly be required,” the Brussels-based ICG said in a report released yesterday.
The ICG said five years on from the violence and chaos that fundamentally flawed the 2008 elections, Zimbabwe’s main political actors President Mugabe’s Zanu PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, each retain substantial national support and a claim =to exercise primary responsibility for the nation’s future.
However, they have made little if any genuine progress towards the mutual trust or at least tolerance that might enable them to agree on a solution to their political deadlock, including the necessary reforms of law, the media and especially the security sector that should precede recourse to the ballot box to decide their differences.
“All that places a heavy burden on the two African inter-governmental organisations that are the only outside entities with sufficient standing, self-interest and on ground presence to have a chance of managing the fragile and potentially explosive situation,” it said.
A summit of the 15-nation Sadc in the Mozambican capital Maputo was unable to press for a delay of the vote after the Constitutional Court upheld the date after Mugabe declared July 31 as election day, a date immediately rejected by Tsvangirai, his coalition partner and his main political rival.
“They badly want both to uphold basic democratic and rule-of-law standards and to welcome Zimbabwe back into their fold,” it said.
“It is likely, however, that these elections will be so deeply flawed or its results so sharply contested as to make those goals incompatible by ushering in an exacerbated crisis rather than the beginning of political stability.
“In either event, the region, the continent and others like the EU that have indicated they will follow an African lead will have to make difficult choices in August.
No policy would be free of costs, but a renewed effort to uphold basic standards — by candour, public and private diplomacy and perhaps even further sanctions — would stand the best chance eventually to cure Zimbabwe’s dangerous fevers.”
Averting a slide into brutality and repression or open conflict is essential if Sadc is to fulfil its regional responsibilities, ICG said. Though characteristically the immediate pre-election period has not witnessed extensive violence, the prospect of violent push back, particularly from frustrated youths, is increasing, especially if the democratic process fails to deliver.
More likely, as in 2008 if the vote goes against them, there will be violence from hard-line Zanu PF elements and “securocrats”, who stand to lose most from a change in political fortunes.
ICG said Sadc gave Zanu PF the benefit of the doubt in 2008 and has not developed visible deterrence to such tactics in 2013.
“Sanctions, suspension of membership or even expulsion are largely untested options,” the ICG report says.
“Threats to employ them have little credibility, given tepid responses to past violence and intimidation. It is unclear whether, how and to what extent member states have supported the Sadc facilitation team’s push for reforms by exerting bilateral pressure via incentives and warnings.”
The think tank said the least likely outcome was an uncontested victory by either MDC or Zanu PF.
“If Sadc and the AU take the low road with respect to a vote on July 31 that is clearly deeply flawed — regardless of which political camp appears to ‘win’, though realistically the Zanu PF side is more likely to be able to employ and benefit from gross manipulation — their ability to maintain regional stability as well as to promote democratisation and good governance will be undermined,” it said.
The think tank said Sadc and AU should be prepared to declare the results illegitimate and press for the elections to be run again after a minimum of three months.
In this interim period, said ICG, Sadc and the AU should continue to recognise the current GPA power-sharing administration as the legitimate government.
“If new elections are held after October 2013 — the constitutional deadline in view of the end of June dissolution of the Parliament, or the parties prefer to avoid elections for the time being, either an extension of the current arrangement or negotiation of a reconfigured power-sharing deal — described by some as ‘GPA 2’— would be required,” it said.
“If the government refuses, Sadc and the AU should consider such options as non-recognition, suspension of membership and targeted sanctions to enforce compliance.
“Sadc and the AU will also need to be strong and pro-active — both threatening and using a similarly wide-range of diplomatic tools and pressing for more extensive presence of their personnel in specially vulnerable areas, including observers competent to keep watch on the security services — if a surge in violence begins or appears imminent either in immediate consequence of July 31 balloting or, as in 2008, in process towards a presidential run-off.”