Zimbabwe elections

Zimbabwe holds its legislative and first-round presidential elections today. The election is almost certainly rigged. If the documents obtained by the Mail (see story, 31 July) are authentic, dictator Robert Mugabe’s strategy this time has been to make it difficult for Movement for Democratic Change voters to cast ballots in the first place, while padding his own ZANU-PF party’s rolls with dead and exiled “voters”. This strategy is contrast to 2008, when MDC leader Morgan Tsvangarai may actually have trounced Mugabe, but the response from the latter was to unleash the goons. While Mugabe conceded he had not won in the first round, Tsvangarai withdrew from the runoff, citing the violence against his party members.

Still, surprises can occur. Moreover, if the documents the Mail received are genuine, the fact that someone leaked them might imply high-level dissent with the attempt to prolong the age-89 dictator’s rule.

Mugabe and Tsvangarai have been in a mostly dysfunctional “unity” government arrangement since shortly after the 2008 disputed elections.

PR in Zimbabwe?

According to the Zimbabwe Independent:

AMENDMENTS to the Electoral Act by President Robert Mugabe using Statutory Instrument 85 of 2013 shows the party-list system of proportional representation will be used in allocation of seats in the senate, national assembly and provincial councils…

Mugabe invoked the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to make sweeping changes to the Electoral Act two weeks ago despite that parliament was still sitting.

The article goes on to explain the system, though not necessarily clearly. It seems that the FPTP system remains the basis of the upcoming elections, and that the list seats are additional. They might only be newly reserved seats for women, but I don’t find the article clear on these points.

Zimbabwe ‘unity’

Update: Robert Elgie has analyzed (and linked to) the text of the amendment referred to below, and concluded “Neither the Cabinet nor the Council of Ministers is responsible to the legislature. So, constitutionally, Zimbabwe remains a presidential system.

Now that the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangarai (Movement for Democratic Change) has been sworn in to the newly created post of prime minister, alongside the president, Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF), a key question is what the constitutional status of the PM is.

The Zimbabwean
has some information on the agreements reached in January, (citing an MDC source):

The parties shall endeavour to cause Parliament to pass the Constitutional Amendment 19 by 5 February 2009.
The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers shall be sworn in by 11 February 2009:
The Ministers and Deputy Ministers shall be sworn in on 13 February 2009, which will conclude the process of the formation of the inclusive government.
The Joint-Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), provided for in the Global Political Agreement, shall be activated immediately. The first meeting of JOMIC shall be convened by the facilitator on 30 January 2009 and shall, among other things, elect the chairpersons;
The allocation of ministerial portfolios endorsed by the SADC Extraordinary Summit held on 9 November 2008 shall be reviewed six (6) months after the inauguration of the inclusive government.

There is much more, but the really crucial constitutional question is what is in the detailed provisions of Amendment 19 (which was actually not passed till after the PM was sworn in). Does it give the parliamentary majority (held by the opposition to Mugabe) the exclusive authority to remove the prime minister and cabinet? Or is the prime minister subject also to the “confidence” of the president? If the answer is the former, the system is premier-presidential. If the latter, president-parliamentary. This is about more than nomenclature; it is about whether the president could unilaterally dismiss the the prime minister.

On these points, the provisions are unclear to me. However, one noteworthy clause of the amendment reportedly

makes it clear that when a person (usually the President) must act “in consultation with” another (usually the Prime Minister) it means with the agreement of the person to be consulted.


The Council of Ministers is meant to ensure the Prime Minister controls government policy work.

(Source for these last two quotes is a different article in The Zimbabwean.)

But if there is no provision for parliamentary confidence, it is not semi-presidential, and if there is no provision for exclusive parliamentary confidence, the president remains in the constitutional driver’s seat.

Zimbabwe: Boycott of second round

The Zimbabwean opposition has announced it will not take part in a presidential runoff, assuming there is one.

This is hardly a surprise, given (relatively) independent claims that the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangarai, actually won outright in the first round. Even if, as other independent sources suggest, Tsvangarai came up just short of 50%, it is difficult to plan for a runoff when the electoral commission has not even released “cooked” results of the first round (on 29 March).

Smart move? Dumb move? We do not talk much about election boycotts here at F&V.

Mugabe opts for runoff

The Independent reports that Robert Mugabe has opted for a runoff in the Zimbabwean presidential election, after the conclusion of a meeting of his top party leaders.

Despite this announcement, there is still no official release of results from last Saturday’s first round.

I am not sure what the game is that Mugabe is playing here. Yes, under the rules, if his challenger, Morgan Tsvangarai, really did earn only 48 or 49% of the vote in the first round, a runoff is required. However, this is obviously no ordinary democratic two-round presidential election. And already it has been officially acknowledged that his party lost control of the assembly for the first time. (The same news item indicates that ZANU-PF will challenge the results in 16 seats. If they can overturn most of those, they would get their majority back, I hesitate to imagine what the social consequences of such a decision would be.)

It is virtually impossible that, in anything close to a free contest, Mugabe could win a runoff, based on unofficial results that show his main opponent so close to the majority already and Mugabe himself around 43%. He would need virtually every vote of the third candidate, Simba Makoni, in order to pull it off. Makoni was until quite recently a member of Mugabe’s inner circle. Had he not run, it is likely that this would have been a very close two-man race and one Mugabe might have been able to steal (assuming much of what became Makoni’s voter base had stayed with ZANU-PF or could have semi-credibly claimed to have). That may have been what Mugabe was counting on, till Makoni entered the race. However, now that the assembly results are out, as is information about the general shape of the presidential vote, and given that a faction of the MDC that ran separately and won assembly seats has now indicated it will throw its support to the mainstream MDC, it is almost inconceivable that Mugabe could reverse this result.

It is even more likely that some votes would shift from Mugabe to Tsvangarai in a runoff, given the revelation of information to previously cowed voters that the old dictator can actually be defeated. ((I am reminded of the results of the first semi-free Albanian election in 1990, where a parliamentary election was held under a two-round rule. Most of the districts that went to a second round saw a collapse of the ruling party’s votes relative to the first round.))

Of course, there remains the possibility that Mugabe believes he can change the second-round results fundamentally through intimidation. Already there have been ominous signs, including a raid yesterday on the opposition by security forces. Chaos could be Mugabe’s short-term ally, but then what? By law, the runoff should be within 21 days of the first round. But Mugabe is apparently trying to have it set for up to 90 days thereafter, to give security forces time to clamp down.

I will admit to having a hard time seeing how Mugabe turns this around now, though the quiescence of Tsvagari so far may be giving Mugabe an opening to exploit. And if the security forces remain fully loyal and ruthless, a total crackdown may be coming. The first news item linked above, however, notes that:

There have been reports of rifts within the highly politicised upper echelons of Zimbabwe’s security forces.

Setting a runoff, delaying it, and calling out the goons may be part of a game of negotiating better terms for his departure or forcing a “power sharing” deal. Or maybe he really believes he can “win” full power back.

These are obviously very dangerous times in Zimbabwe.