The timing and legitimacy in the announcement of presidential results in the 2018 general elections in Zimbabwe
Keywords:Elections - Zimbabwe, Electoral democracy
Presidential elections since the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 have become highly contested and disputed. The announcement of presidential election results in 2018 were reinforced by existing political divisions following two important historical events: (1) the delayed presidential results that took five weeks to be announced in 2008, and (2) the palace-military coup that took away power from President Mugabe in 2017. The suspicious MDC supporters took it onto the streets in protest to what they perceived as rigging processes caused by delays in election results announcements with dire consequences on seven lives gunned down by heavy-handed military personnel. The study aims at establishing the best timing and legitimacy of announcing presidential results in view of the election laws and human rights observance for purposes of political and institutional success. Election results for parliamentary and council results were announced immediately after the results, but there was a halt in the announcement rhythm after this. This convinced opposition supporters that Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) was purposefully delaying the announcement to rob them of their vote. MDC supporters went onto the streets demanding for an immediate release of this strategic and tactical electorate decision. Methods: This qualitative study used Mobile Instant Messaging Interviews (MIMI) to collect data from key informants and focus groups. Results: Results of the study indicate that the legitimacy of the 2018 presidential polls became based upon the military reaction on protesters rather than miscounting of results. It was also revealed that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was short-staffed, and could not quickly verify and collate all the 210 constituency results into single figures for each of the 23 presidential candidates for release to the public. These challenges highlight the need for electoral reform, civic education on electoral law and political maturity on the part of parties to improve on timing and legitimacy in announcement of presidential results at the peak of the election-tide. In conslusion, this article argues that the timing and legitimacy of presidential election results must be examined from the theory of the ‘duration model’ (period between start of elections and announcement of presidential results). The 2018 elections thus were criticised on the basis of human rights abuse by heavy-handed military reaction rather than rigging and the duration question as ZEC was left with five or seven days from its Constitution-mandate to release the presidential results. ZEC needs to be empowered to give all results within the election-tide, hence should act within the constitutional duration and in the context of human rights. The public needs to be educated on the law and processes of elections, including the challenges of ZEC at every moment. The armed forces do not need to be leashed against peaceful protesters.