The 2008 Harmonised Election in Zimbabwe was arguably the most historic of the post-independence elections, as for the first time in the last 28 years the ruling party lost its parliamentary majority and the President lost the first round of the Presidential election. This result represented the culmination of a decade of political and civic opposition to a former liberation party whose legitimacy has been greatly eroded by nearly three decades of intolerant rule. At a national level it is a clear message that despite the extremely harsh and repressive political environment in which elections have been conducted in Zimbabwe, the people of the country found the “resources of hope” required to say no to continued authoritarian rule. For the former liberation movements in the region this is also a message of the capacity of once venerated liberation parties to degenerate into unpopular cleptocracies. However it is the violence that has been unleashed by the Mugabe regime on Zimbabwean citizens that has demonstrated the hollowness of Mugabe’s anti-colonial message, with the real targets of his party’s onslaught being the impoverished and battered citizens of the country. The conduct of ZANU PF since the March 29th elections has encapsulated the degeneracy of the Mugabe legacy, and the security threat that this regime now poses to Zimbabweans and the region. The report that follows is a narrative of hope, thwarted by a leader and political party who view the source of their legitimacy not as the electoral process, but the combination of a selective imposition of a liberation legacy and the brutal deployment of political compliance.
The election took place within the context of the SADC mediation process led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, which provided limited electoral reforms and engendered a more free and fair electoral environment. The mediation’s intention was to get political parties in Zimbabwe to agree on processes that would lead to a generally acceptable election. However, the mediation ended in early 2008 with key issues, such as a new constitution, undecided and the unilateral decision by President Mugabe to set the date for the election on March 29th 2008. Nevertheless one of the electoral reforms agree on in the mediation process, namely the requirement to post all election results outside polling stations in the presence of candidates and election agents, was to provide the opposition with a key mechanism to track election results.
After over a month of delay before the release of the election results the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) finally announced that the combined MDC won a majority of 109 seats in Parliament against ZANU PF’s 97 seats, thus defeating the ruling party’s majority in the House of Assembly for the first time in the post-independence period. The more controversial Presidential count gave 47.9% of the vote to Morgan Tsvangirai, 43.2% to Mugabe, 8.3% to Makoni and 0.6% to Langton Towungana. However the less than 50% plus one victory for Morgan Tsvangirai means that there will have to be a re-run of the Presidential election. This will take place on the 26th June 2008.
After the enormous controversy surrounding the delay and the final count of the election the most shocking development of this election has been the state-sponsored brutality that followed the ZANU PF parliamentary and first round Presidential defeat. As the report makes clear the violence that has been inflicted on the Zimbabwean citizenry was carefully planned by a combination of army, police and CIO officials at a meeting in Nkayi in mid April. This followed the threat of violence made by both Mugabe and the security chiefs in the pre-election period, threatening retribution against the people of Zimbabwe in the event of a ZANU PF electoral loss. In the words of the brigadier at the Nkayi meeting, “if we lose through the ballot we will go back to the bush.”