Background Briefing

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It is impossible to assess the 2005 election without taking into account the bitter legacy of the last two national elections and the moves that President Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) government has taken over the past four years to tighten control over state institutions and the electoral process.  Both the parliamentary election in 2000 and the presidential election in 2002 were characterized by widespread state-sponsored violence, repression of political opposition, and electoral irregularities.  Candidates and supporters of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were intimidated, detained, and arrested.  New proof of residency requirements and limits on who could use postal ballots prevented many likely opposition supporters from voting.

Since 2000, the judiciary, the police, and the civil service have been restructured to ensure that party loyalists are at the helm.  Training centers for youth militias aligned with ZANU PF have expanded, and the government plans to open another ten new centers in 2005.1  The election monitoring role of independent non-governmental organizations has been eliminated and their voter education efforts curtailed.  The independence of election observers, local and foreign, has been undermined by the government’s partisan selection of observers.  Control of the media has been moved into the Office of the President,2 and Parliament enacted the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which created a government-appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC) with wide-ranging regulatory powers.3  The country’s most popular newspaper was closed by the government after it failed to comply with this Act.  In 2004, the government introduced an NGO Bill that prohibits foreign funding of NGOs working on human rights and political governance issues, denies foreign NGOs the right to operate, and makes registration for NGOs mandatory.

The impact of this legacy on the electorate has been profound.  A 2004 survey by Afrobarometer, an independent organization, found that one half of all Zimbabweans prefer to remain unaligned with either ZANU PF or the MDC.  Fewer than half of Zimbabweans say they trust Robert Mugabe and the ruling party (though these figures have risen since 1999).  At the same time, fewer than half express support for democracy (down from two-thirds of citizens in 1999).4  This indicates a loss of faith in democracy among Zimbabweans.

As the next two sections document, there is substantial continuity between the electoral environments in 2000 and 2002 and the 2005 electoral environment.  New election laws have failed to create the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  Limits on freedom of information and association remain in effect.  There has been a substantially lower level of overt violence in the run-up to the March 31 election than in the previous two national elections.  But the electoral process continues to be marred by serious irregularities; and the government’s tactics of intimidation are still being used to silence political opponents. 

[1]  The Herald, 13 November 2004; Zim Online, 15 December 2004.

[2]  Annie Chikwana, Tulani Sithole, and Michael Bratton, “The Power of Propaganda: Public Opinion in Zimbabwe, 2004.”  Afrobarometer Working Papers.  Working Paper No.42, August 2004, p.5.

[3]  The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, March 15 2002.

[4]  Chikwana et al,

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