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SADC has leverage to force Zanu PF to accede to reform, giving that up for 'winning in rigged elections strategies' is insane

19 Jan 2022 at 12:07hrs | Views
Over the weekend Hopewell Chinono hosted a twitter discussion on "The importance of NOT boycotting elections with #ProfLevitsky".

"I consider Zimbabwe to be a competitive authoritarian regime. It has never in its history been a democracy. A democracy is a system in which the playing field is reasonably level; where the opposition compete in elections on reasonable fair terms and can win. And wins with regularity," explained USA based Professor Steven Levitsky.

"In an outright authoritarian dictatorship, like Rwanda, there is no competition. There may be elections, there is no serious competition. The opposition has no chance of winning and the dictator sleeps well the night before the elections.

"A competitive authoritarian regime is in between a democracy and authoritarian dictatorship.

"Sometimes, Zimbabwe has been a soft authoritarian regime in which the opposition has enjoyed some democratic space but has also used repressive measures to become hard authoritarian regime."

Professor Levitsky then went on to argue that there were no easy options when it came to whether or not the opposition should participate in an election process in which the playing field is not level. Boycotting is an option when one has leverage on the regime to force it to have a level playing field otherwise the only other option is to participate.

"In the mid-1990s liberal Western Democracy was the only game in town. The West, international institutions like IMF and WB had leverage in the form of financial assistance which they withheld if the regime failed to hold free, fair and credible elections and therefore lost international illegitimate. This is no longer the case now, 30 years latter!" explained the Professor.

"The West has since lost much of its economic and military muscle and outward international focus in the last 30 years and with it lost its leverage over authoritarian regimes. The regimes have looked to China and Russia, particularly with the former's emerging as a strong economic and military power in its own right; for financial assistance and international legitimacy."

With no political or economic leverage, the least of the bad options, is to participate in the flawed elections! For one thing, the opposition is given some space during elections to campaign and it must use this space.

Authoritarian regimes sometimes overestimate their own rigging power. Rigging elections is not easy and there are cases where the regime rigged the elections and still lost. Or it is forced to blatantly cheat and thus losing credibility and, ultimately, legitimacy.

Besides, authoritarian regimes can manufacture their own opposition parties to counter opposition boycott. (Zimbabweans are very familiar with the "Government Organised" Non-Governmental Organisations (GONGO). Indeed, what is POLAD if not a Zanu PF organised opposition.) Who is there to authoritatively say this opposition is genuine and that one is not!

"There chance of winning a rigged election is 1 in 10 if you participate, which is much better than 1 in 100 if you boycott," concluded Professor Steven Levitsky.

A very persuasive presentation and crowned by such odds; those calling for participating in the Zimbabwe's March 2022 by-elections and the 2023 harmonised elections, regardless of the certainty Zanu PF is rigging these elections, win the day.

The truth is Professor Levitsky's presentation is based on the assumption that for the last 30 years there was/is no meaningful leverage to force the Zanu PF regime to implement meaningful democratic reforms to ensure free, fair and credible elections. How he, an academic intellectual whose reputation is founded on holding historic facts and truths in high regard, had completely air-brushed the watershed 2008 Zimbabwe elections and the 2008 to 2013 GNU that followed out of the country's history beggars belief!  

Credit where credit is due, SADC, the regional body, (not the West or IMF, etc.) pressured the Zanu PF regime to implement several electoral reforms leading to the March 2008 elections. The March vote was the nearest to free, fair and credible elections the country has ever experienced since independence in 1980.

However, when Zanu PF became aware the party was heading for a resounding electoral defeat, the party's vote rigging machine was switched back on. ZEC was stopped declaring the results. The party spend the next six weeks recounting the 5 million or so votes; whittling down Morgan Tsvangirai's 73%, according to Mugabe's Freudian slip, to 47%, enough to force a presidential runoff.

During the runoff, Zanu PF unleashed the party's youth militia and the war veterans to intimidate, harass, beat and rape; the heavy-duty stuff of abducting and killing were carried out by the Army, Police, CIO and Prison Service personal. The regime was punishing the people for daring to reject Zanu PF is the earlier vote.

"What was accomplished by the gun, cannot be undone by the ballot!" thundered Robert Mugabe as the wanton violence engulfed the nation.

SADC and AU, for the first time ever after decades of turning a blind-eye to rigged elections, joined the international community in condemning Zimbabwe's 2008 elections as a farce. It was SADC and AU's refusal to grant Zanu PF political legitimacy that forced Mugabe to sign the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) agreeing to the need to implement a raft of democratic reforms to ensure future free and fair elections.

The 2008 to 2013 GNU, comprising Zanu PF and the two MDC faction with SADC as the guarantor of the agreement, was the vehicle tasked to implement the reforms. Sadly, not even one meaningful reform was implemented.

Mugabe bribed the corrupt and breathtakingly incompetent MDC leaders with the trappings of high office and the rest was history. MDC leaders have often complained that Zanu PF would not reform themselves out of office. What the MDC leaders fail to admit is that during the GNU it was within their power to implement the reforms and they failed to get even one reform implemented in five years. Not even one reform!

When the SADC leaders realised that no reforms had been implemented, they asked to have the 2013 Zimbabwe elections postponed until the reforms were implemented. "If you go into the elections next month, you will lose; the elections are done!" they told Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC friends to their faces.

It should be remembered here that SADC leaders, were still the guarantor of the 2008 GPA, and therefore still had the leverage over Zanu PF. They could declare the election without reforms null and void and take back the country to the situation it was in at the end of the rigged 2008 elections. MDC leaders were clearly aware of SADC leaders' leverage and yet they still went ahead and undermined it by participating in the elections.

"The worst aspect for me about the failure to agree a coalition was that both MDCs couldn't now do the obvious – withdraw from the (2013) elections," confessed David Coltart, MDC-N minister in the GNU, in his book, The Struggle Continues 50 years

"The electoral process was so flawed, so illegal, that the only logical step was to withdraw, which would compel SADC to hold Zanu PF to account. But such was the distrust between the MDC-T and MDC-N that neither could withdraw for fear that the other would remain in the elections, winning seats and giving the process credibility."

So, it was none other than MDC leaders themselves who undermined the leverage SADC leaders had to force Zanu PF to hold free and fair elections and, by participating in the flawed elections, gave flawed process credibility and vote rigging Zanu PF legitimacy. And all because of greed, MDC leaders knew Zanu PF was offering a few gravy-train seats to entice them to participate and they found the bait irresistible.

If anyone thought MDC leaders had learned their lesson after Zanu PF blatantly rigged the elections; they were wrong. Four of the main MDC factions plus three other opposition parties did form the MDC Alliance coalition and yet they still failed to do the "obvious" thing – boycott the elections – for the same reason – greed.

Of course, it was the same greed that had stopped MDC leaders implementing even one reform during the five years of the GNU.

MDC leaders are participating in the 2023 elections knowing fully well that with no reforms Zanu PF will rig the elections and that by participating they will give vote rigging Zanu PF legitimacy. Nonetheless, they are hell-bent on participating for the same reason as before – greed.

Of course, Chamisa and company will never ever admit they are participating in these flawed elections out of greed. And so, they have made a big song and dance about their "winning in rigged elections strategies".

"In 2013 we (MDC) could have boycotted the elections, the regional leaders were expecting a boycott. We did not take that option but I think it would have been a good moment to use it," admitted Dr Alex Magaisa, he was the second keynote speaker in the twitter discussion.

As usual, Dr Magaisa did not explain why MDC did not boycott the elections and thus squandered the golden opportunity. He should know because he was GNU's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's special adviser. He failed to get MDC to implement even one reform during the GNU, so utterly useless adviser he turned out to be.

"President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to the lifting of sanctions in other countries but did not include Zimbabwe. The omission is not insignificant, it is important in so far as signalling some of the attitudes towards Zimbabwe. SA has been critical of Zimbabwe in the past," continued Dr Magaisa in his presentation.

"There is a sense out there that things are not well in Zimbabwe!"

There is no doubt that SADC leaders are really concerned about the worsening economic and political situation in Zimbabwe. They will condemn the flawed 2023 elections and resume the pivotal role they played in 2008 in forcing Zanu PF to accept the need to implement the raft of democratic reforms necessary to end the Zanu PF dictatorship, if they had the confidence there are Zimbabweans who can be trusted to implement the reforms.

If we can team the greed of the opportunistic opposition. And, more significantly, educate our naïve and gullible electorate to participating in flawed elections on the false promise of "winning rigged elections". We will give SADC leaders the confidence to resume their role of forcing Zanu PF to accept the need for reforms, confident, this time, there are Zimbabweans they can trust to implement the reform.

("The importance of NOT boycotting elections with #ProfLevitsky" is available on

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