HARARE – The 2018 elections are likely to be noxious for the opposition, should the parties fail to be strategic, decisive and resist the compulsion of being driven by emotions rather than rationale.
Indications are that there is not likely to be any prerequisite election-related reforms before the polls, which has forced some mainline opposition parties to boycott by-elections held since the 2013 elections.
While there have been marginal and encouraging improvements in the electoral management processes such as the introduction of the Biometric Voter Registration process and some level of openness to engagement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), these fall far short of the immense reform schema needed.
Opposition parties must link their demands for electoral reforms to recommendations made by the Sadc Electoral Observer Mission and AU on what needed to be addressed after the 2013 polls.
These touched on State media reforms; shortcomings in Zec’s preparations; the inability of candidates and the public to inspect the voters’ roll; reports of duplication of voters’ names and omission of others; excess ballot papers; missing pages in ballot booklets; high incidences of turned-away voters; late publication of polling stations and high numbers of assisted voters.
Given the by-elections that have so far taken place since 2013, there is no evidence that these issues, which mainly relate to the structural nature of how the State perceives and construes elections, would be resolved ahead of the next polls.
Against this background, opposition parties must hold both Sadc and the AU to account because these conditions precedent remain at variance with most of their recommendations and it would be a miscarriage of justice to endorse the 2018 polls in the absence of the reforms they recommended in 2013.
In 2012, the AU also introduced the Long-term Observer Mission (LTOM) to observe and evaluate the structural nature of the election terrain in African States trudging towards polls, way before their election seasons, and recommend whether countries are ready for elections or not.
Although the mandate of the AU in sending the mission is by consensus of the government of the host country, opposition parties must demand that the LTOM do a thorough job.
As much as elections are an internal matter for sovereign States, institutions such as Sadc and the AU are crucial in determining the legitimacy of polls on the continent.
Opposition parties must appreciate that elections are not determined by the numbers at rallies, but the structural nature of the electoral environment and processes.
They must also resist the temptation of entirely relying on external parties. It is important that they be clear on what they will do or not do in case their demands under the National Electoral Reform Agenda are not met.
Also, the coalition that the opposition parties are building, must not be an alliance obsessed with abstract wishes of contesting elections in the current skewed environment and then waking up one day in power.
It must primarily be about how to collectively demand the benchmarks and how to delegitimise an electoral process that falls short of meeting AU and Sadc standards.