The 2023 elections in Zimbabwe seen as a two-horse race

Opposition parties need to address voter apathy as 2023 approaches

By Anotida Chikumbu and David Chikwaza

WHILE spirited efforts by opposition parties, civil society actors, and public media to rally citizens to register to vote ahead of the 2023 elections are commendable, voter apathy is increasingly becoming a worrisome trend in Zimbabwe.

It has long been argued that the absence of legal reforms are the main reasons why Zimbabweans are apathetic when it comes to voting in elections.

Whereas there is some truth to this claim, the argument breaks down when subjected to critical analysis. Too often, activists advocating for reform are not entirely certain about what exactly it is they want to reform.

With the exception of the exclusion of the diaspora vote, Zimbabwe currently has some of the most progressive electoral laws that provide the foundation for a free, fair, and credible election.

What is wrong in Zimbabwe today, therefore, is ‘electoral practice.’ In other words, there is a yawning gap between the law and the practice of it thereof.

The national legal framework governing elections –the 2013 Constitution, the Electoral Act of 2008, and the Electoral Regulations Act of 2005 – are progressive legal instruments. Few people would challenge the notion that the rules set out in these laws are – at least in theory – strategic incentives for democratic elections.

The very fact that Zimbabwe has a polling station-based voters’ roll, and that the 2013 constitution won the popular vote in a referendum, are critical starting points.

What is more, long established repressive laws that needed reform –the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act – were also recently amended.

However, it is important to note that the adoption and implementation of a given set of electoral laws are two separate endeavors.

Despite some steps in the right direction, Zimbabwe remains undemocratic on the whole, especially in light of the indicators around electoral management, voter registration, media restrictions, and issues with vote counting and voter education. Indeed, the most recent elections in Zimbabwe made evident that fraud, manipulation, violence, politicized arrests, the muzzling of free speech, and unfair media coverage remained the norm.

While the role of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is spelled out in Chapter 12 of the constitution, in practice, the commission has not demonstrated independence.This has over the years watered down Zimbabweans’ trust in this key institution.

What we as Zimbabweans need to do is emphasize reforms to our electoral practices and not necessarily reform to our existent laws.

First and foremost, government institutions should level the electoral playing field by preventing the military from engaging in partisan politics or interfering in electoral processes.

Stronger efforts should also be made to deter violence and intimidation by the military during campaign periods.

And importantly, international observer missions – which have been barred or hampered in the past – should be left to carry out their work without being marginalized by politically motivated restrictions.

  • Anotida Chikumbu is a historian and political economist. He is a PhD candidate and assistant lecturer in the department of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Follow him on Twitter: @ConstantineChi9
  • David Anodiwanashe Chikwaza is a researcher and scholar of political science and international development studies. Follow him on Twitter: @chikwaza

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