Suppressing Electoral Reforms Conflicts in Zimbabwe through Rule of Law and Dialogue

By Farai Chirimumimba


As the MDC Alliance today, 05 June 2018 presses on with electoral reforms demand, they probably survived a counter onslaught after the police refused to clear a counter ZANU-PF march which was rescheduled for tomorrow. As noted by Sachikonye (2011), violence has been woven through the intricate fabric of Zimbabwe’s political history in various forms which include murder, beatings, rape, death threats, abductions, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced displacement, property damage, harassment, intimidation and terror. It has been used as the weapon of choice by the governments in power since the declaration of UDI in 1965 through to post Independent Zimbabwe as a measure to ensure retention of power at all costs.

The year 2016 witnessed the intensification of electoral reforms conflicts in Zimbabwe mainly between the ruling ZANU-PF government, presided over by President Robert Mugabe, and an alliance of about 13 opposition parties under the banner National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA), led by the main opposition outfit, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai. This was after the enactment of the General Laws Amendment Act (GLAA) on 1 July 2016. The GLAA took an omnibus approach to amend and attempt to align 126 Acts with the Constitution. However, regarding to electoral laws’ alignment, GLAA was not comprehensive (ZESN 2016).

The ruling ZANU-) party has refused to accept any attempts to initiate meaningful electoral reforms. They argue that they cannot reform themselves from power. In 2015 electoral watchdog Electoral Resource Centre (ERC) and a host of other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) sponsored a petition to parliament which culminated in a nationwide electoral reform consultation conducted in 2016 by the parliamentary committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Sadly, the findings have not resulted in any concrete action. However, judging from media reports during the consultation phrase shows that some participants were being partisan and violent which led to cancellation of at least two hearings (Chirimumimba 2017a).

This paper assesses the latest electoral reforms conflict developments in Zimbabwe by identify the critical underlying issues driving the conflict and maps strategy which may be used beyond 2018 harmonised elections. The article recommends that firstly, the electoral laws and subsidiary legislations should be aligned fully with the Constitution. If they are still any other issues of disputes, formally structured all-stakeholders Electoral Reforms Consultative Forum (ERCF) should be established to discuss any identified outstanding critical issues and formulate possible interventions that can be adopted to end the electoral reforms disputes in Zimbabwe. This will lay the basis for an effective and sustainable conflict transformation process and reduce electoral reforms disputes that have become the norm in recent harmonised elections. A case study of Kenya will be forwarded with the hope of showing that it is possible bring conflicting parties together to find a common position to a problem.

Zimbabwe’s Electoral Reforms Conflict Dynamics

The post-independence electoral conflict was more pronounced from the 2000 parliamentary elections where ruling ZANU-PF party lost several seats to MDC. The 2002 presidential election results were also disputed with the MDC lead by Morgan Tsvangirai arguing that the election was rigged. Parliamentary elections in 2005 further deepened the disputes with the 2008 harmonised elections being the most violent and resulted in a Government of National Unity (GNU). For instance since 2000 Zimbabweans have experienced five national elections and two constitutional referendums. The disputed parliamentary election of 2000, the harsh and intimidating 2002 presidential election, the turbulent 2005 parliamentary election to the ferocious 2008 harmonised elections where for example over 200 people mostly opposition members are said to have died, with numerous arrests and thousands more forced to flee as internally displaced or refugees. These have lead to election-related conflict and violence rising to the forefront of political discourse in Zimbabwe and globally (Chirimumimba 2017b)

The 2013 elections marked the end of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the Inclusive Government between ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), one led by Morgan Tsvangirai (former Prime Minister) and another by Professor Arthur Mutambara (former Deputy Prime Minister). This was a period of moderate economic stability, and reduction in incidences of political violence, but there was little progress in implementing all the reforms agreed by the political parties under the GPA. This was expected considering, the GPA was more in the nature of a peace accord rather than a genuine transitional vehicle, for some the outcome was not a surprise (Research and Advocacy Unit 2015)


The Peak of Electoral Reforms Conflict in Zimbabwe 2016- present

The period between 2000 and 2013 witnessed subdued electoral conflict. However, in 2016, the conflict intensified, with a coalition of opposition parties under the NERA banner and the other under Coalition of Democrats (CODE) organising a series of demonstrations alleging that the government was unwilling to address its electoral reforms demands in line with the constitution. By October 2016, the demonstrations were heating up and were becoming violent. This forced the police to issue a ban on demonstrations in Harare central business district initially for two weeks which was further renewed with a month long ban. Today is the first electoral reform demand demonstration in 2018.

The monthly meeting between ZEC and opposition parties has failed to come up with a consensus amid little progress reported on the issues under discussion. ZEC accused the opposition parties and private media of undermining progress by attacking its integrity which resulted in a walk out by ZEC official; in their May 2017 meeting. However, electoral conflict continues, with the opposition parties and civil society intensifying their pressure on the government to undertake electoral reforms as instructed by the Constitution as being witnessed today in Harare with MDC Alliance supporters on the streets where they are to hand over a petition to ZEC demanding electoral reforms ahead of the harmonised elections on 30 July 2018.

Towards an Inclusive and Electoral Reforms Dialogue

The ongoing electoral reforms conflict may be viewed as a symptom of various challenges facing Zimbabwe as a country. Electoral reforms are one of the several issues affecting development in Zimbabwe as they are placed the country in electoral since the 2013 general election. In 2016, a number of social movements rose to prominence arguing the government to deal with the social ills such as corruption, poverty and unemployment ravaging the country. The major social movements that come to the forefront include #Thisflag and #Tajamuka among others. The facilitation process should facilitate a broader dialogue that prioritises a conflict transformation agenda. Government must priories the alignment of the electoral laws and any other secondary laws with the Constitution before efforts to establish the ERCF which should exchange ideas on how Zimbabwe can establish capable electoral institutions and comprehensive strategies to harness ideas from all citizens of an electoral process they desire.

Monthly ZEC and political parties meetings may not be the best way forward to resolve the larger-than-political party issues at stake, as it reduces the talks to political bargaining and politicised consensus-building which was the case with the new Constitution which came into effect in 2013. As eluded above, this paper advocates first for alignment of electoral laws to the Constitution. There is also need to review and amend subsidiary legislation that is contradictory to Constitutional provisions on fundamental freedoms that impact on elections such as the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) (ZESN 2016). The proposed ERCF should have an expanded discussion framework that transcends opposition parties, civil society and any other citizen’s demands.

The following key thematic issues should be prioritised and considered for discussion by the proposed ERCF. If there is any other outstanding disputes, l then propose the following strategies to ensure sustainable reforms for democratic elections in Zimbabwe: Establishment of a formally structured ERCF comprising all political parties, civil society organisations (CSO’s), academia, labour, business, religious organisations, all representative stakeholders and rest of citizens of Zimbabwe. As an alternative, the ERCF should be mandated with but not limited to the following four principal responsibilities: (1) to comprehensively identify the underlying issues driving the Zimbabwean electoral reforms conflicts; (2) facilitate meaningful citizen participation in the electoral processes; (3) to develop short-term and long-term electoral reforms intervention proposals that will be considered for adoption and implementation by the government; and (4) to establish an all stakeholders institutional framework for the monitoring, evaluation and review of the implementation of ERCF interventions. Although there is limited time for most of the electoral disputes to be resolved before 30 July 2018 harmonised elections, this will lay the ground for a more sustainable electoral reforms conflict transformation process in Zimbabwe beyond the 2018 harmonised elections.

Case Study

Some cases of electoral reforms in post-conflict countries are examined in this section.

Electoral reforms for Dialogue in Post-conflict Kenya

The post-election conflict of December 2007–2008 in Kenya left the country fragmented. Apart from the loss of over 1 200 lives and displacement of about 300 000 people, the violence fermented a tribal hatred. There were widespread feelings of distrust, fear, anger and hatred in the communities, driven by the need to come up with a common position on electoral reforms that re-establish communication between the opposing sides and rebuild the social fabric broken by the conflict, bearing in mind that the presidential elections of both 2007 and 2013 were disputed (Olibunmi 2016).

The Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) was established in Kenya after a series of demonstrations by the opposition parties under the banner Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD). One of the protests’ main worry was the bias of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The efforts resulted in the enactment of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act and the Election Offences Act which brought in a broad range of electoral reforms ahead of the 8th August 2017 elections. Among the several reforms is an increase from 45 days to 90 days for political parties to carry out their nominations.

The Act also introduced a new framework for recruitment of commissioners of the IEBC. The Constitutional (Amendment) Act ensured that the Supreme Court will now have 14 days, instead of the previous seven to hear and discuss presidential petitions (EISA Kenya 2016). However, there were disagreements on electoral reforms after the Supreme Court nullified the 8th August presidential result on 1 September 2017. The main opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga boycotted the 26 October 2017 fresh election citing unwillingness of the government to implement their electoral reform demands.

As eluded above, Zimbabwe has faced disputed elections since 2000. However, unlike the Kenyan experience, opposition parties in Zimbabwe under the banners National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA) and Coalition of Democrats (CODE) like the Kenyan opposition were also involved in a series of demonstrations since August 2016 but, however, have been unlucky in making government make meaningful electoral in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution. However, Although PCER was generally successful, CORD dismissed PCER as a government project. Instead, CORD wanted an inclusive all stakeholders meetings that dialogued reforming the electoral system (Mvere 2016).


Against a background of escalating electoral reforms conflict in Zimbabwe as is being witnessed today where theMDC Alliance is marching in Harare to demand reforms, it has been argued that the government must first align electoral laws and subsidiary legislations with the Constitution before involving in any other alternative.

It has also been argued that in any event, limiting electoral reforms dialogue and discussions exclusively to political parties and ZEC may not ensure sustainable electoral reforms conflicts prevention and transformation. Thus, it has been suggested that any outstanding electoral reforms issues after alignment of electoral laws with the Constitution should be dealt with under a multi-stakeholder ERFC has an alternative instead of the parliamentary public consultations that are not all encompassing.

The outcome of the ERFC discussions should then be considered for formal adoption and implementation by government to stop the electoral reforms conflict mode that has characterised Zimbabwe since 2000. This will lay the basis for an effective and sustainable conflict transformation process. On his inauguration and other platforms President Emmerson Mnangagwa assured the nation that the 2018 harmonised elections on 30 July will be free, fair and credible. However, sadly this is impossible without proper electoral reforms. Therefore it is time for wholesale amend of electoral laws rather than piece meal approach which the Electoral Amendment Act recently passed in its current form seek to achieve.


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Chirimumimba, Farai (2017a) “Zimbabwe Electoral Reform Plans Are Just a Pipe Dream”, Available at httpss:// [Accessed 08 July 2017]


Chirimumimba, Farai (2017b) “The State of Peacebuilding with Elections in Africa.” httpss:// [Accessed 30 June 2017]


EISA Kenya (2016) “EISA Kenya: Electoral laws and reform 2016”, Available at httpss:// [Accessed 06 July 2017]


Mwere, David (2016) “Two bills on electoral reforms published to end IEBC standoff”, Available at httpss:// [Accessed 06 July 2017]


Research and Advocacy Unit –RAU (2015) “Zimbabwe since the elections in July 2013: The View from 2015”, Available at [Accessed 09 July 2017]


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ZESN (2016) “ZESN and CSOs Communiqué towards democratic elections”,02 November, Available at [Accessed 08 July 2017]