THERE was great buoyancy and optimism among the common Zimbabweans that the elections would bring real change after the end of Robert Mugabe’s protracted dictatorship in November last year. From an extraordinary peaceful election day, to the shooting down of half a dozen unarmed protesters, to the remarkable sight of a president disowning the actions of his own security forces, and to the legal battle over the alleged electoral rigging. Each day has produced something new and added more twists to the already febrile and charged atmosphere in which questions about long term peace and stability in the country have popped up more vigorously. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, former president who steadily graduated from being father-of-the-nation to a vicious dictator during his 37-year rule, chaired the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) group from 1975 to 1980 and led its successor political party, the Zanu – Patriotic Front (Zanu–PF), from 1980 to 2017.
However, the simmering repulsion against his tyrannical government reached to the boiling point on November 06, 2017, when Mugabe arbitrarily sacked his first vice president and long-time confidant, Emmerson Mnangagwa. This ignited speculation that he intended to appoint his second wife Grace Mugabe as his successor. Grace Mugabe, notorious for her lavish and luxurious life style, was very unpopular with the ZANU-PF old guard who did not waste time in effectively snubbing her attempt at power through backdoor. On 15 November 2017, the Zimbabwe National Army placed Mugabe under house arrest as part of what it described as an action against “criminals” in Mugabe’s circle.
On November 19, he was sacked as leader of Zanu-PF, and Mnangagwa was appointed in his place. The party initiated an impeachment resolution against him that eventually coerced him to tender his resignation after negotiating a deal, under which he and his immediate family are exempted from prosecution and his business interests are legally protected. Emmerson Mnangagwa took over the charge of presidency after Mugabe’s departure to fulfil the constitutional obligation. The July 30 election was in fact a turning point in the history of Zimbabwe if viewed from the perspective of continuation of democratic process. The main contest was between Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old former spy chief and Zanu-PF party stalwart, and Nelson Chamisa, the 40-year old leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The election day was very peaceful but within next two days the whole country was in a chaos as the opposition outright rejected the election results as fraudulent and rigged. Interestingly, Robert Mugabe also cajoled his supporters to vote for Nelson Chamisa. The pre-poll surveys and opinion polls suggested an exceedingly close fight, with a little tilt towards Chamisa, who was quite confident that, after decades of brutal dictatorship Mugabe and his Zanu-PF, the exhausted Zimbabweans will overwhelmingly favour him. Figures released by the electoral commission data showed that Mr Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF party secured 50.8% of the presidential vote – ensuring by only 36,464 ballots to avoid a run-off – and Chamisa tallied 44.3% of the almost five million votes cast, with the 21 other candidates taking up the remainder. While the results of the parliamentary election furnished Zanu-PF with 144 seats; the MDC Alliance, an amalgamation of seven parties, 64 seats, and one seat to the National Patriotic Front, a group of Mugabe loyalists.
But the loud allegations of mammoth electoral irregularities and subsequent bloody post-election violence, that engulfed half a dozen lives, have practically catapulted Zimbabwe into a deep political crisis. The massive crackdown against the supporters and office-bearers of Chamisa’s MDC only has further reinforced the reports of international media that the pro- Mnangagwa military is blatantly hijacking the whole process. Though the electoral commission categorically denies “skulduggery”, but Nelson Chamisa insists that he has strong evidential proofs to show that the poll was marred by “mammoth theft and fraud” and he was cheated out of the presidential vote. “The inauguration is no longer going ahead as planned,” Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said, after Chamisa and his party challenged the electoral exercise in the Constitutional Court. Zimbabwe’s constitution allows a presidential candidate to legally challenge electoral results within seven days of a winner being declared. The Constitutional Court now has 14 days to rule on the legal challenge by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Now the onus is on the MDC, whose main leadership is on the run ever since the post-election clampdown initiated by the security forces, to prove that the electoral irregularities were “grave enough” to change the outcome of the vote. If it succeeds in proving this through documentary evidences, the court could order a recount or declare the election results null and void. Mr Chamisa wants the court to declare him the winner or call a fresh election. Despite his confident claims about the concrete evidences against electoral irregularities, chances are slim that the MDC alliance and its leadership, which are already being monitored very closely by the security forces, will be able to muster enough documentary proofs to build a winnable case in the Constitutional Court in two weeks.
But the tricky part of the problem is that if the court decides in Chamisa’s favour – a remote possibility – then Mnangagwa and his supporters in the security forces are likely to forcibly resist any such development, resulting in a new round of chaos and violence. The second scenario is also equally dreadful; if the court declares the election results as fair, then the Chamisa and his supporters are also not expected to resume their agitation. However, Chamisa and associates don’t have enough logistical capability to carry on with their protest campaign to the extent of effectively deterring the Mnangagwa government from running the show. Nonetheless, Zimbabwe is still stuck in a deep mess with no hope of any respite in the near future.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Karachi.