Zimbabwe: 2000 General Elections

Extracted from: "Zimbabwe" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 445-447.

The 2000 elections were played out against the backdrop of renewed national liberation demands and ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front] stoking the fires of nationalism. But the ZANU-PF campaign slogan, "land is the economy, the economy is the land", was not merely revolutionary nostalgia. Rather, it was explicitly backed up by an army of war veterans and, implicitly at least, by the police and armed forces. Leading the charge was President Robert Mugabe, whose populist rhetoric and criticisms of Rhodesian, British, and American interference with Zimbabwean sovereignty added much heat if little light to Zimbabwe's political and economic situation.

The 2000 elections promised change, not only through the growing strength of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the first substantial opposition to ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe's 20 years of independence, but also through raising the possibility of succession from within ZANU-PF. MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai (former leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions), thus served as the focal point for a highly charged two party race. Though the elections resulted in neither an MDC victory nor an immediate shake-up within the ruling party hierarchy, they did promise a new phase of politics in Zimbabwe.

In February 2000, a referendum was held as the culmination of the year-long consultative constitutional review process. In opposition to what it claimed was a handpicked government team; civil society organisations formed the National Constitutional Assembly that proposed its own constitutional reforms. In 12-13 the February 2000 referendum, 58% of voters rejected the proposed constitution (see Referendum 2000: Results for details). In another setback for the government, Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) chairperson, Bishop Hatendi, resigned after complaining about the conduct of the registrar-general and the lack of an independent electoral commission.

International attention focused on pre-election political violence and intimidation. Following the February referendum, liberation war veterans began a campaign of land invasions on white-owned commercial farms. Over 1 000 farms were occupied and over thirty people were killed, and many more - some 5 000 according to human rights organisations - were reportedly harassed, beaten and forced to engage in partisan activities. The opposition MDC expressed concern that, despite over twenty murders since the referendum, the police had not yet made a single arrest. The land invasions were accompanied by the destruction of property and of weak or complicit responses by the police and the judicial system. Throughout the land invasions, President Mugabe and ZANU-PF officials and supporters called for restraint, and maintained their opposition to the political violence, much of which they blamed on the MDC.

Opposition parties claimed that the land occupations, violence and intimidation were part of a ZANU-PF strategy designed to steal the elections. More than 1 200 white-owned commercial farms were occupied prior to the elections. The opposition parties perceived the motive to be punishment for white farmers, who were alleged by the ruling party to have coerced their farm workers to vote against the draft constitution. President Mugabe made a public statement in March 2000 that seemed to confirm this; "They [the war veterans] are demonstrating their greatest disappointment that there was this 'No' vote which negated the clause in the Constitution that was going to give government power to acquire land without hindrance."

But public enthusiasm to engage in politics appeared to be on the rise, with approximately 5.1 million eligible voters appearing on the voters roll from an estimated voting population of 6 million. The poll was set to take place over two days: 24-25 June 2000.

For all the violence and intimidation, the allegations of regulatory manipulation and the highly charged campaigning between ZANU-PF and MDC, the election days themselves were a largely peaceful affair. Most international observers agreed that the polling stations were generally well managed and well equipped. Thus, and surprisingly, given the general political climate in Zimbabwe prior to the elections, the polling and counting days were observed to be peaceful and orderly.

Approximately 2.5 million of nearly 5.3 million registered voters cast their ballots. This amounts to a turnout figure of 48%.

The election was closer than any previous election, with ZANU-PF acquiring 47.2% of the vote and 62 seats while MDC won 45.6% of the vote and 57 seats (see 2000 House of Assembly national election results for details). ZANU-Ndonga won the remaining seat. MDC support was strongest in the urban areas of Harare, Bulawayo and Matabeleland, while ZANU-PF dominated the countryside where farm invasions made opposition campaigning difficult. Of 55 women candidates, a total of 14 were elected, fewer than in the previous elections. Although MDC pressed court cases seeking to overturn the results in over 30 constituencies its members nevertheless took up their own seats.