Elections in 2008

The publicly proclaimed objective of the SADC political mediation in Zimbabwe was to create political conditions for the holding of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. The negotiations have led to a series of changes to the constitution, the electoral laws, the laws regulating freedom of assembly, and the operation of print and electronic media. The ruling party and the main opposition party agreed to these changes to the law.

The exciting realisation that the current Electoral Act requires an absolute majority for the election of Zimbabwe’s President has also come with some confusion. Some of the confusion arises from the dilemma of whom to support and why, but some arise from a misapprehension of the applicable laws.

As the euphoria over the so-called ‘Third Wave’ of democratization has receded, it has become only too evident that the primary mechanism for thwarting progress towards democracy has too frequently been elections. In part, this has been due to the overweening emphasis put on elections by the advocates of democracy: the presence or absence of democracy has too frequently been judged by the number of ‘free and fair’ elections that any given country has held; Larry Diamond has termed this the ‘fallacy of electoralism’.

On 28 March 2008, elections were held for the presidency as well as parliamentary and local government seats. For the first time since independence in 1980, the two MDC formations together won more seats in the House of Assembly than ZANU PF. The MDC thus became the majority party in the lower House. The MDC also won the Presidential election, but its candidate did not obtain the required absolute majority of the votes and there had to be a second presidential vote.

On the 18th April, 2008 President Robert Mugabe officiated at ceremonies commemorating Zimbabwe’s 28th year of independence. Flanked by service chiefs throughout the militaristic displays, Mugabe gave not so much as a flicker of acknowledgement that but three weeks previously the electorate had indicated that they would prefer another person to carry out this role.

In March 2008 Zimbabweans voted in the most peaceful election since independence, resulting in an unambiguous victory for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Three months later, the country haemorrhaged from a massive and rising tide of political violence not seen since the state-sponsored terror of the early 1980s. The ruling party and its supporters were responsible for the vast majority of the current attacks. As if to underscore his party‟s public embrace of violence, President Mugabe openly threatened to “wage war” beyond the June 27 Presidential run-off election, if his candidacy should be rejected by the people for a second time. 

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