Two weeks from today, Zimbabweans will head to the polls to vote in the first election in the country’s history in which Robert Mugabe’s name will be absent on the ballot. On the surface, voting on July 30 will almost certainly appear better than recent elections, especially the 2008 poll that was marred by excessive violence, resulting in hundreds of deaths, as well as thousands of beatings and displaced people. A new biometric voters’ roll has now been created and international observers have been invited for the first time in recent memory. Importantly, opposition candidates have also been allowed to campaign relatively openly this time around.
However, there are mounting concerns that the election is already fatally compromised. Just today, for example, it was reported in local media that the country’s electoral commission – already seen as a deeply partisan institution that favors the ruling party – changed the position of polling booths so that they will now be in full view of officials and party agents, a move that would entirely undermine the secrecy of the ballot.
Denial of fair access to the media, the organized political intimidation taking place, and the involvement of security forces in the election -- including their early voting in the absence of observers -- are all on their own enough to cast doubt on the vote's credibility. Taken together, it would appear there is a lack of genuine political will to hold truly free and fair elections, despite government rhetoric to the contrary. Indeed, Zimbabwe might be "open for business," -- as new president Emmerson Mnagnagwa likes to frequently claim -- but is the country and its institutions open for a credible election that meets regional standards? The answer to that question remains increasingly in doubt.