New election season follows old script

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AS THE rhetoric and clamour for elections gathers momentum, it is convenient to warn fellow citizens of the challenges that lie ahead. The formation of the unity government in 2008 masked deep rooted decay in the politics of Zimbabwe and it is these challenges that haunt and will continue troubling citizens as we approach elections.
It has been the suspicion of many within the opposition circles and outside that Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Robert Mugabe convincingly in the first round of elections in 2008 but was robbed of victory as the latter connived with the Electoral Commission to create a false scenario whereby none of the adversaries scored more than the 50% benchmark to have outright victory, hence the need for a run-off.
Five years after the signing of the GPA, it is regrettable that no meaningful reforms have been implemented. The security sector is still as intact as it was before. The same generals who were behind the 2008 atrocities are still fully embedded in their war trenches, with some of them even promoted to higher ranks as a reward for the role they played in propping up the regime.
Security minister Sidney Sekeramayi declared last week that a call for security sector reform is uncalled for as it is tantamount to a call for regime change. For Mugabe, maintaining the status quo in the security sector is a matter of survival as opposed to luxury. He has lost all respect among the electorate and for him to maintain his power, he needs the backing of the military.
Much is also at stake for the generals. Victory for the opposition would leave them vulnerable as they are forced to answer charges of human rights abuses which hang around their necks. Also, they cannot afford to let go of all the fortune they have amassed throughout the reign of Mugabe. A Tsvangirai victory is a threat to all what they have accumulated.
Moreover, the same individuals are following events around the continent, for instance, the surrender of Bosco Ntaganda of the DRC before the ICC in the Hague. Because of the above reasons, Mugabe will never give in to demands for security sector reforms and the opposition has to live with this reality. The old mentality of Mugabe and his security chiefs has not yet changed and because of that, they will fight to the end to rob Tsvangirai of victory again.Advertisement

Faced with this stark reality, the MDC seems to be powerless to effect change from within as was the hope when they entered into this marriage of convenience, leaving the playing field uneven as before in Mugabe’s favour. The chances of falling back into anarchy as in 2008 are as ripe as ever.
There has been no meaningful media reforms since 2008. The clampdown by the partisan police on people using small wind-up radios is an attempt by Mugabe to restrict the electorate’s access to information. The dysfunctional ZBC that promotes Zanu PF propaganda is viewed by the regime as the right source of information for the electorate. The awarding of licences to two new players to broadcast is a non-event as they are all linked to the regime. In a sense, it is just an extension of Zanu PF’s control of the airwaves.
Perpetrators of the 2008 atrocities are still roaming the streets with none of them having been brought to the courts. These thugs are well known but are protected by those who feed them. With most of them reported to be on government payroll, they just wait for a call to unleash their reign of terror.
The judiciary on the other hand is rendered powerless to prosecute the criminals as it is compromised itself in favour of Zanu PF. As a result, victims of politically motivated violence remain vulnerable as they are not protected by the institutions which are meant to protect them.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] as well as the Registrar General’s office have not been reformed enough for the electorate to have confidence in them. As happened in 2008, Mugabe is likely to rely on these two institutions to rig the forthcoming elections in a smarter way than before.
As mentioned above, violence in the forthcoming elections is not likely to match that of 2008 for a number of reasons. Firstly, Mugabe is old and tired and this election is likely to be his last. As such, he may want to leave the stage peacefully contrary to what many may believe. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana left the stage in the same fashion.
Secondly, a repeat of the 2008 violence will not work in Mugabe’s favour especially taking into consideration the pressure from SADC. Mugabe does not want to be on a collision course with SADC at a time he is shunned by the international community. He may appear to shun Jacob Zuma in public but privately he is well aware that being isolated by SADC will not help his cause.
Third, no-one and not even Mugabe himself would stomach a return to the economic meltdown of 2008. Because of the above reasons, elections are likely to be rigged in a smarter way with the help of ZEC and the Registrar General’s office. Instead of withholding election results for ages, this time the shock results are to be announced within days. With disturbing reports that ZEC is staffed with personnel from the CIO, it is no wonder that it is the playground where elections are to be won and lost.
The MDC might have played a part in the restructuring of ZEC, but it is a fact that theirs was a peripheral role as Mugabe dictated the tempo. The resignation of Justice Mutambanengwe and the subsequent appointment of Rita Makarau can best be understood in this political drama to determine who wins the forthcoming elections. The role of the Registrar General’s office is also to play a significant part in shaping the election outcome. This office has been instrumental in the past in facilitating the regime’s rigging mechanism and the same office has been left almost untouched by reforms leaving Mugabe enough room to manoeuvre.
The recent persecution of human rights activists, NGOs as well as members of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission is a clear signal of Mugabe’s intentions. Although he seems to condemn these activities in public, in private he endorses them. He would be taken seriously if he acknowledges that he is now powerless to control his marauding militias.
However, reality on the ground seems to imply that he is still in control but is reluctant to instil discipline in them as they are his source of power. Without them he is finished and they themselves cannot do without him as theirs is a symbiotic relationship.
Mugabe will push for elections before the end of June and his excuse as usual will be the need to abide by a court directive on by-elections but at the same time, that will be a ploy to do away with the talk of reforms before elections. The MDC will find it difficult to stop him from declaring elections before June unless pressure comes from Zuma, the SADC appointed mediator. Whether SADC will succeed in forcing Mugabe to implement the remaining reforms before elections remains to be seen. If no meaningful reforms are implemented, a return to the chaotic elections is a possibility.
As advised, Zimbabweans should have Plan B at the table today. In the event that Mugabe steals the vote again, what can be done? Mugabe will not go peacefully as Rawlings did in Ghana and Kaunda in Zambia. What he and his generals need are guarantees of protection in exchange for leaving office.
If Zimbabweans forgave Ian Smith, then why not their own wayward sons? If Ghanaians forgave Rawlings and the Pakistanis Musharaf, why would Zimbabweans deny Mugabe and his generals the same gesture? It is guarantees of protection and forgiveness that Mugabe and his generals need before relinquishing power. However, it is those who acknowledge their crimes who should qualify for forgiveness and for Mugabe and his generals, they have not shown any remorse at all. Pardoning them without them acknowledging their guilt is like rewarding vice by virtue.
Muchayi can be contacted on e-mail: