In this opinion piece, William Muchayi asks why it is in Mugabe’s interests to call a snap election: he warns us that whilst Mugabe is old and frail, he is remains politically agile. William in an independent political analyst.
At 89, Robert Mugabe is by far the longest serving African leader. Internationally, only Shimon Perez of Israel has attained such a long tenure. Dogged by poor health and a dismal 33 year track record, he has recently thrown his hat into the ring for the forthcoming elections. What is more, he has called for snap elections. What is the logic driving these political manoeuvres?
Firstly, Mugabe is frail and tired and all indications are that he is desperately seeking to manage his exit on his own terms. This exit strategy seem to have been hurriedly crafted through the inclusion in the new constitution of a clause that stipulates that if ever a sitting incumbent is incapacitated in office to the extent of being unable to carry out his duties, his party has to choose someone from within their ranks to finish his term. Mugabe will use all arsenals at his disposal, whether legitimate or not, to win the coming elections before handing over power to his anointed successor in whose hands he will be guaranteed of protection in retirement. The anointed successor does not necessarily have to be the most senior person in the party, but there are several other criteria he will need to meet. Most importantly, he must have close ties to the military, for that is where Mugabe’s powers lie today. Furthermore, his own hands must be dirty . Mugabe is still haunted by Gukurahundi and whoever is to succeed him must have played a pivotal role in the 1980s atrocities, as well as the 2008 massacres. Who would turn around and prosecute Mugabe for all those atrocities when he himself was an accomplice? Mugabe desperately needs to dictate the terms of his exit rather than leaving it to nature, hence the need for elections today rather than tomorrow.
Secondly, no meaningful reforms have been implemented since the signing of the GPA in 2009. This climate favours Mugabe, as the media and security sectors are still able to function in Mugabe’s favour. Conducting elections now gives Mugabe an added advantage over his rivals, hence the urgency with which elections should be conducted. Already, the military is on the ground countrywide campaigning for incumbent. Postponing the conducting of elections is not in Mugabe’s favour as the talk of reforms is an impediment in his grand strategy of retaining power at all costs.
Thirdly, there are already widespread reports of massive rigging taking place before elections are conducted. Voter registration in urban areas, which are the stronghold of the opposition, is reported to be extremely slow due to the small number of registration centres available, a deliberate ploy by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to frustrate urban voters. In rural areas, however, which used to be Zanu PF’s stronghold, the story is different. Furthermore, there are reports that the Registrar General’s office is in the process of compiling names of those in the diaspora to add them onto Zanu PF list, a strategy meant to inflate Mugabe’s following. The activities of Israeli spy agents Mossad alleged to have been hired by Mugabe to rig the election is another worry for the opposition. It means that when Mugabe clamours for elections, he does not count his voting base, but the corruption of the country’s electoral machinery. The July polls will coincide with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation [UNWTO] conference that Zimbabwe and Zambia co-host. If Mugabe can rely on the ZEC and the Registrar General’s Office to rig the election, then there will be little need for open violence on the ground as there was in 2008. Should this be the case, outsiders arriving for the conference are likely to believe they are seeing a free and fair election, failing to take into account the ‘backstage’ electoral corruption that is rife in the country. Their accounts could provide crucial legitimacy for Mugabe on the world stage.
Fourthly, Mugabe is reliant on the weakness of the opposition: The last thing that he wants is to fight a united political front. So, with the opposition seemingly unable to unite face a common enemy, now is the right moment to call for an election. Dragging the election date further into the future will give these opposition groups room to manoeuvre and bond, thereby making his job more difficult.
Lastly, recent opinion polls have shown the MDC and Zanu PF as being neck-and-neck, making this the perfect time to hold a poll. Whether or not these opinion polls are accurate is uncertain: when people are reluctant to express their opinion for fear of victimisation, poll results need to be treated with caution. What is certain, however, is that Mugabe will exploit the poll results to his advantage. And who would dare to cry ‘foul’ in the international community and slap the regime with sanctions, when the numbers have long been in Mugabe’s favour?
Mugabe may be old and weak but he remains a strong political strategist. And one that the opposition underestimate at their peril.
Interesting piece, and its insights seem to be reinforced by the results that are coming in today. But to correct a factual error: Mugabe is not Africa’s longest-serving leader. Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola have both been continuously in power since 1979, the year before Mugabe took office as Prime Minister in Zimbabwe.