Zimbabwe recently held the first elections since President Robert Mugabe’s regime was ousted after nearly four decades of rule. With the end of his dictatorial version of democracy, Zimbabweans were optimistic that these elections would bring much-needed change. Despite the resulting post-election violence and crack-downs, there were many positive aspects of Zimbabwe’s election, which was necessary steps towards a true democracy.
Ending a 37-Year Rule
The military leaders intervened after Mugabe fired his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, while intending to make his younger wife his successor. With Mugabe ousted, Mnangagwa—a former security chief who is still seen as Mugabe’s ruthless enforcer—took over as Zimbabwe’s second head of state.
Mugabe began as a promising president after Zimbabwe’s independence, but he soon turned autocratic. Under him, people suffered from violent land reforms and devastating economic measures. He cut ties with international banks and monetary agencies. Mugabe’s policies led to some of the worst hyperinflations in the world and nearly collapsed the economy.
Amidst social and economic crisis, Mugabe resorted to oppression and intimidation to retain power. In fact, in the 80s, over 10,000 supporters of opposition parties were massacred in an event now known as The Matabeleland Massacres. Although elections were held, they were riddled with voter intimidation and often rigged.
In November 2017, Mugabe reluctantly resigned after a military coup surrounded his house for six days. Parliament had also already begun impeachment procedures. Mugabe’s resignation was met with cheers and celebrations across Zimbabwe.
Positive Aspects of Zimbabwe’s Election
As the July 30 elections drew nearer, Zimbabweans had high hopes that this time it would be different. Two candidates established themselves as the frontrunners. The incumbent President Mnangagwa, representing Zimbabwe’s leading ZANU-PF party, faced off against the younger Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an opposition party.
One of the most significant positive aspects of Zimbabwe’s election was allowing Western observers enter to monitor the elections for the first time in 16 years. The observers noted that the use of state resources to run advertising campaigns provided the incumbent party an unfair advantage, which was a cause for concern, but the elections themselves were peaceful.
The main complaint was disorganization at some of the polls where voters stood in long lines and some waited up to six hours to cast their ballot. In other locations, everything ran smoothly and on-time. Zimbabweans demonstrated their hopes and enthusiasm at the polls. Around 75 percent of the 5.6 million registered voters showed up. This high voter turnout was viewed as another example of the positive aspects of Zimbabwe’s election, an indication of an educated and receptive electorate, according to the electoral commission chief.
Preliminary assessments by observers suggested a relatively free and fair election. There were minimal signs of intimidation or bribery, but further analysis is necessary to consider the effects that the public media campaigns, a lack of transparency and the disorganization at the polls might have had on the results. The European Union’s chief observer said that at the very least, there was an improvement from previous elections.
However, with delays in the official counts for the election, unease rippled throughout the country. The accusations of vote-rigging triggered opposition supporters to take to the streets. The response of security forces was swift and severe; a reminder of life under Mugabe’s oppressive autocracy. Six people were killed in the violent clashes and another 14 were injured. Then 18 members of the opposition party were arrested.
Despite the issues, the incumbent Mnangagwa won the election with 50.8 percent of the vote, just enough to avoid a runoff. Some critics fear that his presidency will just be a continuation of Mugabe’s regime—Mnangagwa is accused of leading some of the worst atrocities during this era, and the political power still rests with Mugabe’s comrades.
President Mnangagwa’s Plans for Zimbabwe
As president, Mnangagwa has been trying to shed his ruthless reputation. His main focus has been on reviving the country’s devastated economy through much-needed reforms. By reestablishing relations with the West, he promises to reverse Mugabe’s isolationist attitudes.
During Mnangagwa’s first 100 days as president after Mugabe was ousted, he has already begun setting some of these changes in motion. His plan is partially based on recommendations for Zimbabwe by the British neoliberal think tank, Adam Smith Institute.
The government promised to reopen industries and is currently investing in organizations such as The Cold Storage Company to help boost production for the meat industry. Many are hopeful that these changes will create jobs for Zimbabweans.
He has also begun tackling the rampant corruption and arresting several high-profile offenders—although critics argue that he needs to look within his own cabinet. During a three-month amnesty period, he even encouraged corrupt officials to return money taken illegally.
Reducing corruption is necessary to improve life for Zimbabweans as well as to attract foreign businesses. For similar reasons, Mnangagwa has made trade deals with Belarus, China and Russia. A commission with a South African rail company will have the dual benefit of improving transportation and increasing investment.
Zimbabwe is desperate to receive foreign assistance from the West to help jumpstart the economy. However, this aid is predicated on political reforms, which include peaceful and credible elections. It looks as though some of these reforms could come to pass under Mnangagwa’ presidency.
Although there were allegations of fraud and the government’s post-election crackdown can’t be overlooked, no fraud has been found and Mnangagwa’s presidency is considered legitimate. Mnangagwa has outlined many positive plans for the future of Zimbabwe. If he makes good on his word, then that will be another of the many positive aspects of Zimbabwe’s election.
– Liesl Hostetter