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International Crisis Group: Zimbabwe's Elections: Mugabe's Last Stand

July 29, 2013

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"A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely, as Zimbabwe holds inadequately prepared presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist. Confidence in the process and institutions is low. The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced. The electoral commission is under-funded and lacked time to prepare. Concerns about rigging are pervasive, strongly disputed results highly likely."

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) face severe credibility tests. They must avoid a narrow technical approach. If the vote is deeply flawed, they should declare it illegitimate and press for a re-run after several months of careful preparation or, if that is not possible, facilitate negotiation of a compromise acceptable to the major parties; and strong diplomacy will be needed to forestall extensive violence if the presidential contest moves to a run-off in conditions like 2008, or, if President Robert Mugabe loses at any stage, to ensure a smooth transition

89 years old and 33 years at the helm, President Mugabe seeks to ensure his Zim≠bab≠≠we African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) regains full control of government before embarking on a fraught succession process. Out-manoeuvring both the two rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and SADC, ZANU-PF hardliners, supported by the president, secured a Constitutional Court ruling that confirmed the premature election date, shutting down in the process any prospects of necessary reform, around which there had appeared to be growing convergence between the MDCs and SADC.

The regional body, as well as the AU, might have pressed harder for a postponement; however, in the end, they felt they had little option but to accept the sovereign decision of the newly constituted court. MDC formations favoured a later date but could only cry foul and reluctantly agree to participate, since they know a boycott would be counter-productive and that to remain relevant they must demonstrate they retain popular support.

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