Zimbabwe’s attempts to rejoin Commonwealth appear dashed after disputed poll
Zimbabwe’s bid for readmission to the Commonwealth suffered a knock after the UK’s House of Lords on Tuesday expressed concern over the security situation in the southern African country following its 23 August general election, controversially won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Representatives of the UK’s House of Lords on Tuesday, 6 September expressed concern over political retribution targeting opposition members, human rights defenders and civil society in Zimbabwe while debating the situation in the southern African country in the aftermath of its controversial polls held on 23 August — signalling potential further international isolation of the Harare administration.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared President Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner of the presidential polls with 52.6% while Nelson Chamisa of the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party, who rejected the outcome of the polls, got 44%. The remainder of the vote was split between smaller opposition parties.
The debate in the House of Lords came shortly after two top lawyers were arrested by Zimbabwean police while representing their clients who had been abducted and severely assaulted by suspected state security agents and arraigned before the court on charges of obstruction of justice.
The UK representatives also expressed concern about the security of several opposition supporters who were allegedly subjected to post-election violence and retribution.
During a question and answer session in the House about the elections, a British Labour peer, Baroness Denise Kingsmill, who was part of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Zimbabwe, said she doubted that Zimbabwe was ready to rejoin the Commonwealth, given the chaotic manner in which it conducted its elections.
Regional and international observers who monitored the elections concluded that the 23 August polls lacked credibility as they failed to meet the requirements of Zimbabwe’s Constitution, electoral laws and regional guidelines governing the conduct of democratic elections.
‘Doubts on credibility of election’
“A lot of factors, many of which were also raised in 2018, led us to doubt the credibility of this election,” said Kingsmill. She asked the Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and United Nations at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, whether he agreed that the ideal would be for Zimbabwe “to re-enter the Commonwealth, but it can do so only when it meets the standards of proper democracy, the rule of law and free elections?”
Ahmad replied, “I agree with her. I commend her efforts, and those of all the other observer missions, in observing the election. We hope that, ultimately, inclusive and pluralist democracies emerge, and that Zimbabwe can find its way back into the Commonwealth.”
In reply to another question, he said, “Membership of the Commonwealth and its unique nature as an institution provide a real alternative to countries around the world. However, any country seeking to join must abide by standards, and, of course, that decision is ultimately for all members of the Commonwealth.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Low international turnout at Mnangagwa’s inauguration could signal Zimbabwe’s further isolation
Efforts to get a comment from Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland on whether Zimbabwe would be re-admitted to the grouping were unsuccessful.
Zimbabwe’s late strongman Robert Mugabe, who was forced to resign in November 2017 after a military coup, pulled the country out of the Commonwealth in 2003 after the grouping resolved to extend sanctions against his government for violating its democratic values.
After taking over from Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 37 years, Mnangagwa embarked on an international tour to re-engage with the international community, including the Commonwealth, in an attempt to restore the country’s tattered image. In 2018, Mnangagwa applied for readmission to the Commonwealth as part of his push for greater international legitimacy.
However, the Commonwealth set benchmarks, including key democratic reforms, respect for the rule of law and human rights and holding credible elections, for Zimbabwe to be allowed to rejoin the grouping.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu, who works with the NPO International Media Support, told Daily Maverick it was highly unlikely that the Commonwealth would readmit Zimbabwe without the implementation of key democratic reforms.
“Judging by the reports of election observers, including that of SADC, African Union, European Union and the Commonwealth, there would be no justification or even an argument to support the readmission of Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth. Political dialogue between Zanu-PF and CCC to deal with governance and political reforms would be ideal,” Mukundu said.
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The debate in the House of Lords also centred on the rejection of the results of the 23 August polls, with Lord Anthony St John of Bletso calling for an “all-party conference in Zimbabwe to reach an inclusive compromise roadmap for the economic and political sustainability of the country”.
In response, Ahmad said, “First and foremost, he will be aware of the work that Zimbabwe must do with the African Development Bank on the repayment of its arrears. The economic focus that is needed is something that must be prioritised by the new administration. I also very much agree on the need for inclusivity when it comes to Zimbabwe and its future.
“Of course, the CCC and indeed all other parties must be part of that. One does hope that these points prevail and, as I said earlier in response to a couple of questions, these then add to the basis and foundation for eventual membership, we hope, of the Commonwealth as well.”
Zimbabwe’s Democratic Party president Urayayi Zembe, who backed Chamisa’s candidature in the elections, said it appeared that Zimbabwe would be allowed to rejoin the Commonwealth only after the democratic will of its people had been respected.
“It seems to me that the House of Lords and the rest of the international community would want to make sure that those fresh elections are held upon reaching an agreement by all political players. In that sort of request, they would want to make sure that there is stability during the conduct of discussions and dialogue amongst political players as well as a fresh election which complies with the SADC norms of democratic, free and fair elections.”
Mandate of the people
Zembe said a unity government would require the mandate of the Zimbabwean people.
“For that government to be formed, it means that the people would have agreed to such a transitional authority or interim government. For now, all that Zimbabweans are asking for is a fresh and credible election and I do not think that is too much of an ask to ignore under the circumstances.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe opposition leader Nelson Chamisa calls for fresh poll to ‘exit crisis’ after ‘flawed’ results
It was not clear if there had been any negotiations between Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition to try to ease the political tension in Harare.
Fikile Mbalula, the ANC secretary-general, who remained in Harare after Mnangagwa’s low-key inauguration, said the ANC was in “delicate engagements” in Zimbabwe after the party and President Cyril Ramaphosa were accused of prematurely endorsing Mnangagwa’s re-election. DM