Zanu-PF, alongside the Zimbabwean Electoral Commision (ZEC), have been accused – and rightly so – of rigging votes in the past.
So on Wednesday, when Harare erupted in violence that led to six people killed by the army, it was a tragic yet familiar tale.
Emmerson Mnangagwa was known as Robert Mugabe’s main enforcer for decades. You don’t earn the nickname “crocodile” for nothing. But since taking power in the lead-up to these elections, he has tried his best to sell himself as a reformist and project a veneer of respectability.
With his army having killed and injured demonstrators on Wednesday, some would argue that this veneer has now slipped. And while I in no way want to let him off the hook for what happened, those who have followed this election closely would be forgiven for demanding that the MDC-Alliance’s leadership should share some of the blame.
While I would love to buy into the narrative that Zanu-PF, the traditional bad guys, have once again stolen the election from MDC (the traditional good guys), the situation this time around seems to indicate it may not be as simple as that.
It has to be said that, as with countries that have ‘Democratic’ in the name who tend to be the least democratic (see Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or Democratic Republic of the Congo), the Movement for Democratic change has behaved in this election as if democracy is not one of their top priorities.
At a press briefing on July 26, Chamisa’s lawyer Thabani Mpofu referred to his client repeatedly as Zimbabwe’s “president in waiting.”
Assuming you’ve won before a single vote has been cast is not the behaviour of someone who wants to bring democratic change to a country that so sorely needs it.
At that briefing, Mpofu said he had “put together the necessary legal strategies to protect against rigging ahead of the elections on Monday”.
If there were such legal strategies, why did the MDC leader urge his followers to take to the streets after Zanu-PF were winning, in full knowledge of what the Zimbabwean army is capable of when it comes to dealing with protesters?
On the same day as the press briefing, Chamisa announced he would not accept anything less than a victory. He continues to say that now.
Note that Chamisa did not say he wouldn’t accept the result if electoral fraud was proven. Rather, he said he would only accept the result if he won. For someone who opposes Zanu-PF, the idea of only accepting the result of a democratic process if you are victorious is more than a little reminiscent of the way Mugabe operated when contesting elections.
That Zanu-PF and Mnangagwa won because of electoral fraud can in no way be assumed. While the MDC dominate in Zimbabwe’s cities, Zanu-PF still enjoys huge support in rural areas, and Mnangagwa’s promises of change may have inspired Zimbabweans to vote for him.
This doesn’t mean there was no electoral misconduct. But we can’t simply assume there was.
The MDC says they have proof of electoral fraud. If this is the case, they have a responsibility to bring this evidence to light and have it verified before hastily sending their supporters on to the streets again to face a brutal army.
It seems MDC supporters have had enough after decades of enduring a repressive regime. This is understandable. But if the opposition alliance is ever going to prove it deserves to govern more than Zanu, it would need to show greater respect for the basic principles of democracy than its rival does.
Tragically, the MDC seems to have demonstrated that they are only too willing to use tactics right out of the Zanu playbook in an attempt to defeat them.