After a Flawed Election, Will the International Community Choose “Stability over Democracy” in Zimbabwe

The election in Zimbabwe is over. The results are mixed.

This was the first election held since the ouster of Robert Mugabe. His successor and former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has claimed victory. But the opposition has claimed that the votes were rigged — and at least three people were killed in post-election violence.

What happens next poses a sharp choice for the international community — an in particular Zimbabwe’s neighbors in southern Africa. Will they question the results of the election? Or accept the results in the name of “stability.”

The last general elections in Zimbabwe were held in 2013. The two leaders of the country’s main political parties – Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Robert Mugabe (ZANU PF) – stood for president, while their parties campaigned for seats in the House of Assembly. The lead-up to the elections was tense, but there was still hope that Tsvangirai would finally become president. Then-president Mugabe promised that if he lost, he would gladly respect the democratic process and step down. Anticipation of an MDC win even spread to the millions of Zimbabweans living outside the country. Some were even planning to return home after years away. And then, the results came. Robert Mugabe got 61.09% of the vote, Morgan Tsvangirai 34.94%. ZANU PF won the majority in the House of Assembly and the Senate. People were shocked, stunned into inaction by a result that seemed obvious but still caught them by surprise.

Five years later in 2018, much has changed in Zimbabwe. For the first time in 16 years, both ZANU and MDC had new presidential candidates on the voters roll. Emmerson Mnangagwa became the leader of ZANU PF following a military intervention that removed Robert Mugabe from power in November 2017. Morgan Tsvangirai died of cancer in February 2018, and Nelson Chamisa succeeded him as president of MDC-T. There was also the creation of APA, a political party formed by Dr. Nkosana Moyo. A former Minister of Industry and International Trade, Moyo was critical of the political climate in Zimbabwe, and in his presidential campaign he presented himself as an alternative to the ZANU/MDC divide. In the National Assembly elections, there was an increase in independent candidates on the ballot, with popular independent candidates such as Fadzayi Mahere.

The opposition grew to include over 100 political parties contesting in the elections. With the announcement of the official election date, 30 July, political campaigns spread across the country. It was by and large a peaceful electoral season. Opposition parties held rallies and gatherings in large urban areas, an unprecedented occurrence in Zimbabwe. This would be the first election since the resignation of Robert Mugabe, a test to see if things would really change or not.

Three days after the general elections, the results of both the presidential and general elections were announced. ZANU PF has a resounding majority of the House of Assembly. Emmerson Mnangagwa won the presidency with 50.8% of the vote, to Nelson Chamisa’s 44.3%. The results, announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), were met with mixed reactions. There was surprise, jubilation, defeat, and anger. Protests in the capital city Harare on 1 August led to the deaths of three civilians. The presence of the army on city streets has added to an already tense atmosphere. Although Mnangagwa has already proclaimed victory, and several heads of state have publicly congratulated him, Chamisa insists that the elections were rigged and that he is the rightful winner of the presidential campaign.

Allegations of rigging started before the election.

Opposition parties and non-governmental organizations pointed out irregularities in the voters roll, ZEC’s lack of reform and transparency, and media bias in favor of ZANU PF, the ruling party. Chamisa has stated that his party has evidence of the rigging and intends to contest the election results through the courts. In the midst of this uncertainty and political back-and-forth is the population of Zimbabwe, and what the results of this election mean for the future of the country and its people.

Elias Mambo, an independent journalist who’s spent the last seven months covering the run-up and aftermath of the elections, believes that what happens now depends largely on whether Mnangagwa can deliver on his promises of economic reform. However, the results of the election were unexpected, and the shock, coupled with the deployment of the army, has created a very subdued atmosphere. “Once presidential results were announced on Thursday evening, there was no jubilation on the streets because the military had been deployed,” says Mambo.  ZANU’s landslide victory in the House of Assembly came a surprise to voters. After all, MDC-A pulled large crowds for rallies and marches, with Chamisa appealing particularly to young voters. However, according to Mambo, MDC-A failed to make enough headway in rural areas, and this cost them in the parliamentary election.

Now, the office of the president is the hot button issue. Chamisa conceded defeat with his party’s losses in the House of Assembly, but refuses to concede to Mnangagwa. Whether or not he will able to successfully challenge the election results remain to be seen, but Mambo doesn’t believe that the results will be overturned. “It seems the international community and the (Southern African) region prefer stability over democracy in Zimbabwe,” says Mambo. “They were on the ground as part of observers and AU and SADC gave the polls a thumbs up, meaning the results will remain credible.”

Time will now be the judge of whether the 2018 general elections are the beginning of progress in Zimbabwe. Emmerson Mnangagwa made big promises of investment and jumpstarting industry. With the presidential election secured, the country waits for an official inauguration, and what MDC-A’s next move will be.