All Eyes Now on Zimbabwe’s First Election Since Military Coup of 2017
The Zimbabwe elections of 2018 are generating buzz within the political circles of Africa as excitement, anxiety and uncertainty elicit mixed opinion across Zimbabwe. The elections slated for July 30 will be the first without Robert Mugabe as a candidate since 1987.
Seen as the most important elections for the country in more than three decades, this year’s elections could justify Zimbabwe as either a democratically failed state or spell hope for a revival of democracy and economic growth.
“It is the most important election of our lifetime because it has the answer to the question of legitimacy,” said Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and member of the opposition in Zimbabwe. “The quality of this election, the substantive content and outcome of the election are going to be key,” further added Biti.
The Zimbabwe elections of 2018 come barely a year after the former president, Robert Mugabe was ousted from power through a military coup in November 2017. Emmerson Mnangagwa was subsequently elected president and completed the remainder of Mugabe’s presidential term which according to the constitution of Zimbabwe ends in August 2018.
Zimbabwe under Mugabe
Under the regime of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe moved from an economically prospering country to a poor, aid-dependent country with many citizens left with no choice but to relocate to other countries or stay put and struggle under the worsening economic situation. True to this, about 4 million Zimbabweans, which is almost a quarter of the total population, live in other countries with the most in South Africa. In the country’s tobacco-growing regions, children even as young as 11 can be found working in the hazardous environment to earn a little income for basic needs.
It was this desperate state of affairs, coupled with Mugabe’s dictatorial tendencies and refusal to pass the leadership baton, which fueled the 2017 military coup and the ultimate resignation of Mugabe as president. There remains anxiety as to whether the elections will take place due to the effects of the coup, but the government has assured they will occur.
With the Zimbabwe elections now nearing, opposition parties have joined hands to form one coalition named the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) Alliance. The M.D.C. candidate is Nelson Chamisa, a 39-year old lawyer. Chamisa will battle it out with the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa who is running with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. These two are the main contestants in the race.
Could the army be planning to interfere with the Zimbabwe elections?
Tendai Biti remarked that 60 percent of registered voters are aged between 18-40 years which he believes means the youthful Chamisa will resonate with voters. He, however, expressed concern that the military may interfere with the elections to give Mnangagwa the upper hand. “One of the things we are demanding is that the military must publicly declare they will respect the constitution of Zimbabwe and they will respect the electoral outcome that is pursuant to the election,” said Biti.
Many fear since the current vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, is also the immediate former general of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, the army’s loyalty to the current presidential administration could interfere with the upcoming elections. Such concern so far is only speculative and largely hypothetical.
Speaking to the Financial Times in January, Mnangagwa invited the United Nations, the European Union and the Commonwealth to send election observers to promote transparency during the Zimbabwe elections of 2018.