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Unions Face Uncertainty After Flawed Zimbabwe Election

As results continue to be announced in Zimbabwe’s national elections, trade unions and other civil society partners are feeling a sense of dejection, as it appears that not only will Robert Mugabe continue his 33-year rule of the country for another five years, but his party ZANU-PF will secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority. 

While official observer teams African Union (AU) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) noted numerous irregularities with the conduct of last week’s elections, both organizations seem resigned to declare the results to be at least credible, casting doubt on the capacity of opposition parties or civil society organizations to make appeals against what they consider to be a rigged and unfair voting process.

A total ZANU-PF victory was just one of the many likely scenarios that were discussed by observers both in and out of Zimbabwe. With elections called so soon after ratification of the country’s constitution in May, needed electoral reforms were not passed nor were opposition parties or civil society organizations given time to prepare. State-run media heavily favored Mugabe and ZANU-PF candidates. Administration of the poll by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) was also highly suspect and shambolic. The voters’ roll, a list of all eligible voters, was not made available to opposition parties until Election Day, despite a court-order, and anomalies in the list resulted in many voters being ineligible to vote. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has alleged that roughly 750,000 mostly urban voters were effectively disenfranchised due to problems with the voters’ roll.

In spite of the difficulties, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) led a concerted civic education and election monitoring effort. Also on the ground with an observer team was the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC), which represents trade unions from 13 countries in the region. The SATUCC observer dispatched observers to six provinces in Zimbabwe and monitored 87 polling stations. In a strongly worded statement, SATUCC noted, “the 2013 harmonized elections to a large extent lack credibility and fail to pass the free and fairness test.” The ZCTU, in a joint statement with other civil society partners released separately over the weekend, stated, “we regard this election as illegitimate and not reflective of the will of the people.” Both statements note the lack of preparation by the ZEC and question its capacity to carry out the vote fairly. The lack of availability of the voters’ roll and its compromised integrity, according to both statements, resulted in a “systematic trend,” which resulted in a high number of individuals being turned away from voting. 

An initially gloomy mood prevails among leaders of the ZCTU, which again finds itself facing an opposition role against a party and president with which it has repeatedly clashed. While strides have been made in recent years by unions and their allies to build institutional structures for greater economic dialogue, a notable concern in Zimbabwe and among others in the global labor movement is that political conditions could return to that which prevailed in the previous decade—closed dialogue and active government repression and/or physical violence against workers and union leaders.

John A. Hosinski is the senior program officer, Africa Department, for the  AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center.
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