Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold general elections on July 31, 2013. The election date was announced by President Mugabe a few weeks after Zimbabwe’s constitutional court ruled that the president must hold elections before July 31, 2013. The court was responding to a case filed by Jealousy Mawarire, a Zimbabwean rights activist who challenged President Mugabe to announce the date on which the next elections will take place.
The last time Zimbabwe held general elections was in 2008. The 2008 elections were marred by systemic political oppression and pervasive violence, particularly towards opposition supporters. Although polling results showed that the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai had won more votes, President Robert Mugabe refused to give up the post. This power struggle led to a protracted period of stalemate, threatening the country’s long-term peace.
Through a mediation process brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional body of which Zimbabwe is a member, the incumbent President and the opposition leader agreed to sign a power-sharing agreement known as the Global Partnership Agreement (GPA).
The GPA instituted a Prime Minister position for Morgan Tsvangirai and retained Robert Mugabe’s presidency. The agreement also urged the government of Zimbabwe to implement a number of reforms as pre-conditions for the next general elections, one of which was constitutional reform.
According to the agreement, the tenure of the power-sharing government is to end on June 29 this year.
In a nationwide referendum held on March 16, 2013, 95 percent of those who turned out to vote approved a new constitution. On May 22, President Mugabe signed the new constitution into law.
However, the government has failed to reform its media laws and the security sector, two critical components to ensuring free and fair elections.
The hastened decision to hold elections on July 31 means there is only one month for candidacy nomination, campaigning and voter registration. Furthermore, the government has confirmed that it lacks sufficient funds to support a general election.
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Zimbabwe have been lukewarm in the past few years. However, the prospect of election violence in Zimbabwe necessitates high level engagement by the U.S. and the larger international community. The U.S. government should work with the government of Zimbabwe, the U.N. and SADC to ensure that the next elections, whenever they will be, are transparent, free and fair.
Zimbabwe is home to the largest Brethren in Christ church in the world. Through its partnership with the Brethren in Christ church and local faith-based organizations, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) funds trainings in peacebuilding and conflict transformation. MCC also supports community development work in areas of education, HIV/AIDS and care of orphans and vulnerable children.
As we work and pray for peace, may we remember our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe during this time of great political uncertainty.