from Africa in Transition

Zimbabwe Elections May Be Delayed – For Two Weeks

June 18, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

South Africa

Elections and Voting


The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) special summit on the Zimbabwe elections went ahead on June 15 in Maputo, Mozambique, despite press reports that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe had sought its postponement. Mugabe had unilaterally proclaimed that elections would go ahead on July 31, as mandated by the Zimbabwean constitutional court. The opposition parties, led by Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T, strongly objected to elections that soon because a package of reforms designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 electoral violence has not been legislated or implemented. SADC, led by South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, has called for such a Zimbabwe “road map” that would promote free and fair elections.

The upshot of the Maputo summit is that Mugabe agreed to ask the constitutional court to allow a delay in the elections for about two weeks. Mugabe also apparently agreed to regularize through parliament some amendments to the electoral act that he had already implemented using presidential powers. In addition, the Zimbabwean security forces are to restate their commitment to the rule of law. SADC further urged the Zimbabwean parties in parliament to agree on legislation concerning a number of proposed reforms that remain outstanding.

Mugabe also agreed to a greater role for SADC than he had wanted. A SADC facilitation team will sit in with the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC); this is a Zimbabwean multiparty body established in 2009 to ensure that the Zimbabwean parties adhere to the letter and spirit of the Global Political Agreement that SADC negotiated. Mugabe, however, had wanted the SADC facilitation team to merely receive JOMIC reports. Mugabe also apparently confirmed that SADC could deploy election observers. Up to now, Mugabe had rejected foreign election observers—although it was unclear whether that included SADC’s. Apparently, the ban still holds with respect to European or American observation teams.

The Zimbabwean media is talking about how Mugabe was “humiliated” at Maputo. Still, he seems to have gotten most of what he wanted. SADC has agreed to elections before the passage and implementation of reforms that might have resulted in free and fair elections. A two-week delay seems to be little more than symbolic, and few doubt that the court will agree to Mugabe’s request for the delay. SADC’s success in having its observers allowed into Zimbabwe and its facilitators in the JOMIC, however, will allow SADC a better view of what is actually happening in Zimbabwe than otherwise would have been the case.

In the aftermath of the Maputo summit, there continue to be few positive scenarios and many negative ones with respect to Zimbabwe’s elections. Absent a comprehensive reform package, pre-electoral and electoral processes remain vulnerable to rigging, violence, and intimidation. The struggle within the dominant ZANU/PF ruling party over the succession to the eighty-nine-year-old Mugabe continues to be a wild card. And the opposition parties may boycott the elections—or a runoff—as they did in 2008 in the face of violence and intimidation.