Zimbabwe on brink of new political crisis

With Robert Mugabe seemingly defying the odds to win yet another term in power, opposition figures cry foul.

"OMG woman" - Zimbabwe [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
Zimbabwe is divided between those who support Mugabe - and those desperate for change [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Harare, Zimbabwe – Juliet Chakanyuka compares her reaction to Zimbabwe’s election results to mourning a death.

The 51-year-old, who runs an informal convenience store selling vegetables, popcorn and other odds and ends in her home in Highfield, one of the oldest townships here in the Zimbabwean capital, says her community was expecting to move forward.

“I don’t want to go back to a time when there was no food on the shelves. But, we will accept this… in the end, we just want peace,” she said.

Calls for calm as Mugabe triumphs

Chakanyuka’s combination of dissatisfaction with and quick submission to the election results that saw Robert Mugabe score a landslide victory over the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai in this week’s presidential poll, resonates with many. 

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced on Saturday that Mugabe had secured 61.09 percent of the vote, followed by Tsvangirai with 33,94 percent – in a result that the main opposition says it will not accept. Speaking moments before the announcement, Tsvangirai said he would not “legitimise the illegitimate”, and demanded a forensic audit of the electoral process.

Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans in Harare appear shell-shocked by the news that 89-year-old Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party will continue to lead this country.

“We were all hoping for fresh start, a way to move forward,” Alfred Chakuchichi, another vendor in Highfield, told Al Jazeera. 

“The numbers and the figures coming out of this election makes us feel as if something is fishy,” said the 32-year-old.

Harare was bustling on Saturday, with the city dropping only the slightest hints that the country was on a verge of a political crisis. In most part, businesses were fully functional and pavement hawkers continued to sell their wares – but riot police and water cannon trucks were spotted in various parts of the city, in anticipation of trouble.

Ibbo Mandaza is a political analyst and the director of Southern Africa Political Economy Series Trust (SAPES).

“We are in a crisis, there is not doubt about that. We are heading for a long, drawn-out stand off, because the rumours of rigging are too widespread,” he told Al Jazeera.

Allegations of large-scale electoral fraud continue to proliferate across the capital.  

The electoral commission stands accused of the deliberate suppression of crucial electoral information, of selectively registering voters and, by implication, disenfranchising entire areas that were unlikely to vote for Mugabe’s party.

Ahead of the election, the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a local NGO, said that there were major discrepancies between voter registration in rural areas, traditional strongholds of Zanu-PF and urban areas, considered opposition territory. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said on Thursday  that 99.97 percent of eligible voters were registered in rural areas – in contrast to 67.94 percent in urban areas.      

Alleged anomalies over voter registration, however, are not the only grievance some Zimbabweans have against the way these elections were held.

The ZEC’s delayed release of the voters’ roll, barely 48 hours before polls opened, and its continuing refusal to release an electronic, searchable version, has severely aggravated the controversy.

“The voters’ roll tells you who is eligible to vote in an election, it is a primary document,“ Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, told Al Jazeera

As results begin to be analysed, voting patterns have also been questioned.

AU monitor declares poll credible

In Harare, Zanu-PF increased their number of seats by 20 percent, amid reports that supporters from outside the city were bused in to vote. At least one resident in Mbare told Al Jazeera they had witnessed busloads of strangers arriving in a suburb said to have experienced a 38 percent increase in registered voters since 2008.

Zanu-PF also won the coveted Mbare district,  home to the Chipangano gang, a youth militia with ties to Zanu-PF – after the MDC-T held the seat for 13 years. 

Results have also been peculiar in other regions across the country.

In the southern province of Matabeleland South, Zanu-PF won 13 of 15 seats – in an area where opposition parties previously held a comfortable majority. Matabeleland has been traditionally hostile to Zanu-PF – following the ethnic cleansing of mainly Ndebele and Kalanga-speaking people by Mugabe’s North Korean-trained 5th Brigade army in the early 1980s. The region has subsequently remained poorly developed and marginalised, leading the huge electoral swing to raise the ire of sceptics.

And while activists and opposition parties, including the head of the MDC-T, Morgan Tsvangirai, have rejected the results as a sham, many “ordinary” Zimbabweans have been left confused.  

In Norton town, inside the district of Zvimba, where Zanu-PF swept the constituency, Reward Maparadza described people as “surprised”.  

“People know how they voted, but the results are showing something different,” the 27-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Significantly however, not everyone has reservations about the results, nor the credibility of the elections.  

“They should accept these results and try next time,” said Wayne Mukore, a 47-year-old shoemaker in Highfield – the birthplace of Zanu-PF in 1963, but now firmly in the hands of the MDC-T.  

The results are fair, even unsurprising, Mukore said, and the MDC-T only started crying foul once they realised the game was up .   

“Mugabe gave people land and they can’t possibly dream of bypassing him in an election,” said Mukore.

The land issue is central to the polarised views over Mugabe. There is a disdain for him both in urban Zimbabwe, and within the international community that ignores the sway he continues to hold over rural voters. One vendor described this as simply ignoring the sentiment of the rural areas, where 70 percent of the country lives.  

Analysts agree that, despite serious flaws in the way the election was held, the MDC-T also needs to scrutinise its role in the mess. The party’s complacency in campaigning for the rural vote was a major error in judgment that did not take heed of the needs of the electorate.

MDC-T’s agreement to an early election also further implicates the party in the electoral morass.  

“The election was rushed. And took place against the advice of SADC. And given the situation now, we begin to understand why it was rushed,” Mandaza said.

Others, however, say that Zanu-PF needs to be given credit for reasserting its relevance after the political standoff in 2008 almost buried them, as Tsvangirai’s popularity rose both domestically and internationally.  

Analyst Tau Tawengwa said that, in 2008, despite the country being at its lowest ebb, and resentment towards Zanu-PF at its highest – with hyperinflation through the roof, food shortages and colossal job losses, Mugabe still managed to secure 43.2 percent of the first-round vote.   

Although the 2008 election was declared “peaceful and credible” by the SADC regional observer mission, the election was marred by voter intimidation, with violence intensifying in the lead up to the run-off vote.  

After having lost its parliamentary majority to MDC-T in 2008, Zanu-PF has been hard at work in the past three years, said Tawengwa. It has been working with constituencies and, crucially, taking credit for the gains made by the unity government.

Listening Post: The press vote

“I think most people are not interested in getting into the details and look at some of the dynamics in the rural areas,” he said.

Despite the plaudits won by Zanu-PF and the stated failures of MDC-T to convert their contribution to government into tangible votes, few are convinced that the main opposition party could have endured such a lashing at the polls without some level of fraud taking place.

The AU and SADC observers, however, do not appear to have any such reservations. Both organisations have endorsed the polls as free, credible and peaceful

The AU noted that 35 percent more ballot papers were printed than the total number of voters on the voters’ roll – far higher than international best practices of five to ten percent. This “raises concerns of accountability of unused ballots”, it said. It also found that the voters’ roll was released “rather late for meaningful inspection and verification by voters, parties and candidates to take place”.  

The head of the AU mission, former Nigerian President Olusegen Obasanjo told Al Jazeera the polls were “fairly fair”. Responding to concerns over dubious voter registration numbers, he said opposition parties had waited too long to voice concerns over the matter.  

“You do not wait until the July 31 to complain about registration,” he said.

But the MDC say they voiced their concerns to the ZEC on July 9, and to the SADC on July 14, suggesting that observers were well aware of the challenges in the run-up to the election itself.

Analysts close to the observer missions said there remains some dissent within the AU and SADC. 

“There seems to be disagreements on a serious level within SADC,” said McDonald Lewanika, director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an umbrella body of local NGOs.

One AU observer, who asked not to be named, confirmed to Al Jazeera that there is reason to believe “the election does not represent the will of the people”, but “we don’t have the indices to nail down the point”.

Responding to a query from Al Jazeera, following this admission, the AU’s media officer, Hajra Omarjee, said: “The AU report included all the concerns raised by observers on the ground.”  

But the credibility of both AU and SADC observer missions remain in question.  

It is firstly is a matter of the size of observer missions and their access to polling stations.  

The AU mission is made up of a team of 60, who visited 350 polling stations across the country. In comparison, the SADC mission consists of 573 observers – but declined to say how many polling stations it visited.  

There were 9,700 polling stations across the country on election day.  

In comparison, the ZESN, which called the polls “seriously compromised” had as many as 7,000 observers touring the country.  

Then, there is a rising perception that any reluctance on the parts of both the SADC and AU name and shame alleged culprits of wrongdoing, stems from “Zimbabwe fatigue”. In other words, both organisations are seen as wanting to wash their hands of the seemingly endless political debacle in the southern African country.

Mandaza, however, says both the AU and SADC must continue to be involved in Zimbabwe – especially after SADC advised that elections not be held until the government implemented a series of reforms concerning the state media and the role of the army in state affairs.  

“SADC is still seized with the Mugabe situation and will have to remain seized with it,” Mandaza said.

Though few incidents of violence have been reported, there is an uncertainty permeating the city. The country remains on tenterhooks, waiting for its next direction. 

The insinuation that Zanu-PF might just have got away with the perfect crime has rendered a feeling of hopelessness, regret and disappointment for a country desperately trying to looking forward. 

“I am worried sick that we are going to go back to the situation in 2008,” said 32-year old Alfred Chakuchichi.

Back in Juliet Chakanyuka’s humble lounge in Highfield, images of Jesus are splashed across the four walls.

“We put our faith in God now, and wait,” she said. “It is all we can do.”

Additional reporting by Tendai Marima.

Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @azadessa

Source: Al Jazeera