Election 2013: what really happened?

In the absence of accurate polling, the truth is no one can honestly say with any degree of certainty what the Zimbabwean voter actually thinks. The Zanu (PF) supporter surrounded by like-minded people is likely to have concluded that his party would win, and the same can be said of MDC supporters. Before the 2013 elections, there was no real survey of Zimbabwean voters to “scientifically” measure what their intentions were, and so most forecasters resorted to anecdote and downright

The general assumption that Zanu (PF) would lose was based on evidence from the last two elections and the pre-dollarization economic conditions. The reality that the election was taking place in a different environment was largely ignored, and analysts resorted to parroting the same old clichés, statements familiar in the media: ‘white farmers’, ‘breadbasket-basketcase’, ‘hyperinflation’, ‘Mugabe Regime’, etc.

These terms are familiar to anyone who follows the Zimbabwe situation. But while we accept that western voters change their minds on things, for example the Republican Party in America presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, lost in 2008, then in a reversal of fortunes took the mid-term elections and the House of Representatives, but lost the 2012 presidential election, we happily assume the Zimbabwean electorate is static.

Hard to prove

A friend of mine asked, a few weeks ago, ‘What kind of election is this, without violence?’ He was alluding to the fact that violence was an accepted and expected feature of the Zimbabwean political landscape. Because of this violence, the last few Zimbabwean elections received saturation coverage from the world’s media. This year Egypt, Edward Snowden, and the rapist – Castro, were what the media was interested in. Zanu (PF) succeeded in making the Zimbabwean election boring, so boring that even the MDC’s allegations of vote rigging receive little airplay internationally.

Already there are assumptions Zanu (PF) rigged its way back to power, and this recent election can be explained by that phenomena alone. Until there is a proper independent inquiry, we are still in the realm of speculation. We hear that about a million voters were disenfranchised, we hear of ghost polling stations, supporters being bussed around, the voter’s roll stuffed with dead people, and so forth.

The truth is, unlike violence which is blatant and immediately repulsive to the international community, these things are harder to prove and even doing so takes so much more time, by which time the only recourse is to take them to the courts, and we all know who picks the judiciary in Zimbabwe. Some of the challenges from the 2000 election are still working their way through the court system as it is.

MDC failures

What we can more clearly point to are the mis-steps taken by the MDC in the run up to the elections. As a member of the unity government, they completely failed to change, or at least loosen Zanu (PF)’s grip on the country’s electoral machinery. The economic recovery which should have been their trump card was countered by Zanu (PF)’s populist indigenization program and changing perceptions of the land reform program.

Morgan Tsvangirai allowed his personal life to go haywire, impregnating young girls and having marriage scandals, effectively handing Zanu (PF) unnecessary propaganda points. The MDC was slow to deal with corruption in the local authorities under its control. Crucially, the two MDC factions failed to unite before the election, ultimately splitting the vote.

Obasanjo’s dilemma

On the other hand, Zanu (PF) has been consistent in its messaging, portraying itself as the champion of the masses, battling the forces of western imperialism. Zanu (PF) also controlled the electoral process, up to and including the timing of the polls.

The absence of western observers meant SADC and the AU were the main observers on the ground, and given our past electoral madness, their benchmark for what would be a credible election was set very low. If Obasanjo had declared that the elections were not free and fair, he would have risked going down as the man who destabilized Zimbabwe.

The international community has shown signs of fatigue with the Zimbabwean problem that shows no indication of going away. If the Middle East is an indicator, then one must conclude that the west often chooses stability over chaos. Try telling the average Saudi that the west cares for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe is a strategic country in Southern Africa, with mineral resources that at the moment are there for the Chinese to pick, unless the west reverses their position and returns to business as usual.

It seems Zanu (PF) has weathered the storm. The opposition, apart from crying foul about the process, seem not to have a strategy for how to handle their ‘defeat’. Baring mass insurrection or an ‘act of God’, Mugabe now has the time, and perhaps the two thirds in parliament, to set his legacy, and crucially the breathing space to set up his successor – something that no doubt will be a priority in this term.

We still don’t know the mechanics behind how this election was either won or stolen, depending on your viewpoint, but Machiavelli himself would have been proud of the strategist who set this whole thing up.

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