Zimbabwe's fractured political opposition is represented by several loose and evolving coalitions of political parties from both the historical opposition – including Tsvangirai’s MDC-T – and defectors from ZANU-PF, including Joice Mujuru and her National People’s Party. To date, the three main opposition coalitions – the MDC Alliance, People’s Rainbow Coalition, and Coalition of Democrats (CODE) – have been unable to unite under a single cohesive electoral and governing coalition. In fact, attempts to do so have only bred further disagreement over coalition leadership, member parties, and the division of elective seats.
Opposition parties have been in a state of general disarray since the 2013 elections. The days immediately surrounding Tsvangirai’s death have put a spotlight on MDC-T's internal challenges to unify and compete for votes in just a few short months. While Tsvangirai's funeral reinvigorated many opposition supporters—bringing out thousands dressed in MDC-T's signature red color— violence and harassment targeting Vice President Thokozani Khupe, Secretary General Douglas Mwonzora and other senior party leaders cast a shadow over the occasion. This violence was fueled in part by a very public scramble for control of MDC-T following Tsvangirai's death.
According to Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution, barring a dissolution of Parliament, the 2018 elections must occur between July 23 and August 22. However, in recent statements (including at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland) President Mnangagwa indicated that elections would occur before July 2018, and pledged that “this time around, Zimbabwe is open and transparent. We want to have free, fair, credible elections, free of violence.” Yet Zimbabwe’s electoral history makes the prospect of holding free and fair elections in just a matter of months questionable; moreover, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has yet to announce its final operational plan for managing the elections. The biometric voter registration (BVR) process began in Zimbabwe on September 14, 2017. In observing the process, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) indicated that turnout for the BVR process was low, particularly among young people. The group cited limited voter education, intimidation of registrants and misrepresentation of ID requirements (particularly in rural areas), and absence of signage marking registration centers as contributing factors. By the end of the voter registration blitz on December 19, the total number of voters registered amounted to only 65 percent of the ZEC’s stated goal of 7.2 million. Following calls by political and civil society stakeholders to extend the process arguing the coup changed people’s motivations to vote, the ZEC held a “mop-up” exercise from January 10 to February 8, registering nearly 400,000 additional voters. However, ZESN reported that “it is clear that judging by the turnout in urban areas, there is still a large number of people that were not served by 08 February 2018, when the mop-up exercise ended.” While voter registration continues until 12 days following the confirmation of candidates, the process now turns to the de-duplication procedure and inspection of the voter roll—important tasks that will need to be completed very quickly for elections to occur on time. The challenge of high rates of voter illiteracy, as evidenced through the voter registration process, must be addressed through extensive voter education efforts in the lead up to Election Day. However, the short and still unannounced timeline to Election Day, combined with the challenges of misinformation, fears of violence and intimidation, and a historical legacy of election fraud— makes this a significant undertaking. The lack of transparency around many of the processes and decisions made by the ZEC and doubts over the competitiveness of the electoral environment will continue to feed high levels of voter apathy and political tension, especially among youth.
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