The Politics of Elections


With the hangover of the Zimbabwean July 31 2013 harmonized elections still taking its toll, it has been interesting to observe the various commentaries and analyses surrounding the poll result. For instance, there have been recurring allegations of excess ballot papers and fake voter registration slips that were allegedly used to rig the poll. Even Tendai Biti through his make-believe ‘Wanachi’ posts has made allegations that irregularities in Harare East almost lost him the constituency. However, it should be understood that the politics surrounding elections and voter behavior is complex, and therefore, that a national election result cannot be dismissed as ‘farce’ on the sole basis of irregularities.

Firstly, let’s speak of legitimacy. Legitimacy is the generally held belief that a particular social institution (in this case government) is justified and valid. So, for instance, after the Zimbabwean 2008 disputed run-off poll, the MDC’s agreement to enter into a coalition government with ZANU-PF gave that very government its legitimacy. Conversely, currently in Egypt, the legitimate election of a Morsi government has been sidelined by the imposition of an illegitimate government by way of a military coup.

Now, Jorge Aragón, from Saint Louis University in the USA has a work entitled:  Political Legitimacy and Democracy. In this work, he writes that “political legitimacy can be described as [the] people’s recognition and acceptance of the validity of the rules of their entire political system and the decisions of their rulers.” Simply put: when the main political players in a given system accept the rules of the system, they accordingly award the system its political legitimacy.

For instance, in the 2000 United States presidential elections, Democratic Party supporters (whose presidential candidate was Al Gore) made public accusations that the Republican presidential candidate George W Bush had ‘stolen’ the elections. However, because Al Gore had already entered into the presidential race and had thus given the process political legitimacy, his only option was to make a court application seeking an order to conduct a manual recount of the Florida vote. Although Gore was granted the order, it was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, making George W Bush the legitimate winner of that election.

Now, the vote-rigging accusations made by the Democrats in 2000 included allegations that “some 36,000 newly registered voters were turned away because their names had never been added to the voter rolls by Florida’s secretary of state Kathleen Harris,” and that “four to six million votes were left uncounted in the 2000 election” (New York Times, 15 September 2002).

Coming back to the Zimbabwean situation, the 2000 presidential vote in the United States demonstrates that the politics surrounding elections are far from perfect even in the most advanced democracies in the world. Secondly, the fact that Al Gore (as the candidate of the Democratic Party) approached the courts to seek remedy for what he perceived to be ‘irregularities’ speaks to his political maturity and to his understanding that the moment he entered into the presidential race he gave the electoral process  its political legitimacy. You see, he didn’t unilaterally declare the process ‘null and void,’ neither did his lieutenants call for some kind of ‘revolution’ or ‘passive resistance.’ The fact is that when a contestant enters into a race and competes, the contestant tacitly accepts the rules and fairness of the very race consequently making the race legitimate, even if he thinks that the odds are stacked against him.

Finally, when the U.S Supreme court made its ruling, Al Gore, in a nationally broadcast speech announced that he accepted George W Bush as the 43rd president. Maybe certain parties in Zimbabwe should consider following suit.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director

Zimbabwe Elections 2013- Why they won’t form a coalition

zimraysProfessor Welshman Ncube, the presidential candidate and the leader of the smaller MDC party in Zimbabwe has launched his election manifesto and has unveiled a policy document entitled “Actions for Devolution.”

Simply put, devolution of power refers to the transfer of power from a central government to local units.

In the Zimbabwean electoral context, Professor Welshman Ncube’s MDC party is campaigning for the decentralization of power and consequently, for the opportunity to give all the regions in Zimbabwe the self-determining authority to make developmental decisions.

Now, with the national harmonized election days away, a key question is whether or not Professor Welshman Ncube’s MDC will form a last-minute grand coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T.

Although many opinions have been put forward concerning this issue, political analysts and commentators have however failed to recognize that this proposed coalition is a doubled-edged sword for both Tsvangirai and Ncube. As a result let me take the opportunity to unequivocally observe that this coalition will not be formed, for the following reasons:

•    Firstly, according to the MDC-T’s election manifesto the MDC-T
“is a social democratic party committed to serving all citizens….”
Conversely, the MDC led by professor Welshman Ncube has centered its campaign on the theme of devolution of power which, unlike the MDC-T’s position to serve “all” citizens, does not apply to citizens as a cohesive collective, but rather as separate groups. Furthermore, devolution of power as a political theme has internationally proven to be disorderly, divisive and in some instances deadly; the 27 year-long civil war in Sri Lanka is an example. Ultimately, there is a fundamental ideological rift between the two parties.

•    Now, bearing in mind that MDC-N is a party that principally draws legitimacy from the Bulawayo and Matabeleland provinces (provinces that largely feel as though they have been historically sidelined by the state in terms of infrastructure development and industrialization), if Professor Welshman Ncube forms a coalition with the MDC-T, his support base will perceive this as desertion and consequently the MDC-N will lose their supporters in the Bulawayo and Matabeleland regions.

•    Finally, the MDC-T seems to be desirous of this coalition on the maudlin basis that a united front with the MDC-N will dislodge ZANU-PF from power. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that this coalition will see to the end of ZANU-PF. In fact most research studies suggest that ZANU-PF will convincingly win the harmonized election, with or without the MDC coalition. It is therefore clear that for the MDC-N to sacrifice its political relevance in favor of a political union with a party that is ideologically distant, and on a basis that is not empirically justified, it would result in nothing short of political suicide.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director


Elections and Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe


According to the principles of Security Sector Reform as set out in the United Nation’s Secretary General’s 2008 report entitled “Securing Peace and Development: The Role of the United Nations in Support of Security Sector Reform,” Security Sector Reform (SSR) is described as “a process of assessment, review and implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation of the security sector led by national authorities.” In the same report, the Security Sector is defined as “the structures, institutions and personnel responsible for the management, provision and oversight of security in a country.” The report also states that the goal of SSR is “the enhancement of effective and accountable security for the state and its peoples without discrimination and with full respect of human rights and the rule of law.”

Zimbabwe’s top securocrats have recently rejected the notion of SSR in the country, arguing that it fortifies a western-led anti-ZANU-PF regime change agenda. This has consequently ruffled the political feathers of pro-SSR parties in the country who are demanding that reforms are enacted before elections can take place.

It should be observed that when it comes to security sector related issues the world is full of contradictions. In fact, while it is acknowledged that SSR is intended to promote “human rights and the rule of law,” it also controversially argued that so-called non-democratic regimes such as Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tunisa are most urgently in need of SSR. This is a misconception.

Instead of attempting to delve into the debate of SSR in Zimbabwe, I deem it a priority to argue that on the contemporary global arena, no single nation-state has the moral high ground when it comes to the relationship between the security sector, human rights and the rule of law.

For instance, Professor Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on executions recently stated that robotic weapons systems with varying degrees of autonomy and deadliness are being tested or used by the United States and Britain (countries often perceived to be at the forefront of the human rights discourse) without debate on moral and legal issues. These weapons, commonly known as ‘drones’ are believed to have killed more civilians than militants in Pakistan and Yemen. Furthermore, the controversy surrounding Guantanamo bay, as well as the recent furore ignited by CIA employee Edward Snowden’s leaks of state secrets all point towards the furtive and duplicitous nature of security establishments even in the so-called open societies of the world.

Elsewhere, Turkish security forces have recently cracked down on thousands of anti-government supporters in Taksim Square, resulting in four deaths and thousands of injuries. This is the same Turkey that is currently holding almost 100 journalists in police custody according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, yet also the same Turkey that not long ago had anything but vitriol for the Syrian government’s crackdown on ‘rebels.’ As I write this there is no mention of security sector reform in Turkey.

The irony resonates in the SADC facilitator’s tendency to call for security sector reforms in Zimbabwe before elections. Yet, when Jacob Zuma was asked to answer for the recent surreptitious involvement of South African troops in the Central African Republic, he responded: “The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country… there must also be an appreciation that military matters and decisions are not matters that are discussed in public.” No need to mention Marikana.

Back in Harare, The MDC-T is calling for security sector reforms before elections can be held this year. Yet, recently MDC-T security guards allegedly assaulted Zimbabwe Independent journalist Herbert Moyo and barred him from covering a demonstration at the MDC-T Harvest House headquarters. No mention of reforms there. Now what can I conclude of all this? Nothing, except that all is fair in love and war.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director