Post-Election Zimbabwe: What Next?
The 31 March 2005 parliamentary elections that confirmed the full control of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF government were neither free nor fair and disappointed those who hoped they might mark a turn away from the crisis that has dominated Zimbabwe's political life for the past five years. The post-election situation looks deceptively familiar. In fact, Mugabe's era is coming to an end, both the ruling party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) face existential challenges, and the international community needs to urgently rethink strategies and find new ways to maintain pressure for a peaceful democratic transition. Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party used more sophisticated methods than previously but they manipulated the electoral process through a range of legal and extra-legal means to ensure that the election was basically decided well before the first voters reached the polls. With the addition of the 30 representatives Mugabe has the right to appoint, his party now holds 108 of the 150 parliamentary seats, comfortably above the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution at will. ZANU-PF is expected to use that power to prepare a safe and honourable retirement for its 81-year-old leader, who has said he does not want to stand for re-election in 2008. However, ZANU-PF is beset with factionalism, spurred by the desire of powerful figures to position themselves for the succession fight. A taste of the blood-letting was provided by a bitter party congress in December 2004, but the fact that the main factions substantially represent still unreconciled ethnic interests suggests that holding the party together may be difficult. In the wake of another stolen election, the MDC must decide fundamental questions, including whether to adopt a more confrontational and extra-parliamentary opposition despite the prospect that any street action risks calling down the full repressive power of the security services. Leadership and party program issues are as much under review as tactics, and some old supporters are asking whether the party can and should survive in its present form. The "quiet diplomacy" of South Africa, the single state with potentially the greatest influence on Zimbabwe, has failed, at least to the extent it sought to mediate a compromise end to the political stalemate, and the Zimbabwe opposition has indicated it no longer accepts Pretoria as an honest broker. The U.S. and the EU have not hesitated to speak frankly about the quality of the election -- unlike the African states and organisations that have praised it out of apparent reluctance to break solidarity with a one-time revolutionary hero -- but they are no nearer to finding a way to do more than symbolically protest the situation. The one point on which broad consensus may be possible is that Mugabe needs to go, and quickly, in the interests of his country. That is probably the single most important step, though far from a sufficient one, that can begin to create conditions for a peaceful transition back to democracy and a functioning economy. He cannot be taken at his word that he will leave in 2008, and that is a very long time to wait for a country suffering as much as Zimbabwe is. Regional and other international actors should push for a credible earlier date. Mugabe's would-be successors within ZANU-PF know their country cannot afford indefinite isolation. In particular, the U.S., the EU and the international financial institutions should make it clear that there will be no end to targeted sanctions, no prospect of substantial aid, and no resumption of normal relations unless there are real changes, not only in the names at the top of government structures but in governance. Indeed, they should signal that in the absence of such changes, ZANU-PF leaders run the risk of stronger measures that may grow out of closer investigation of such policies as their misuse of food aid for political purposes