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the trends: Africa, Zimbabwe, demand for democracy, and elections
Research and Advocacy Unit
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Africa, formal institutional rules are coming to matter much more
than they used to, and have displaced violence as the primary source
of constraints on executive behavior. From decolonization in the
early 1960s through the 1980s, most African rulers left office through
a coup, assassination, or some other form of violent overthrow.
Since 1990, however, the majority have left through institutionalized
means - chiefly through voluntary resignation at the end of a constitutionally
defined term or by losing an election. Elections are also becoming
more important as a mechanism for selecting leaders in Africa, as
reflected in the large increase in both their number and their competitiveness.
The fact that incumbents still almost always win, however, underscores
that the major challenge connected with the task of limiting presidential
power in Africa today is not so much promoting elections as making
certain that leaders adhere to constitutional limits on their continued
eligibility to contest them.
by Posner and Young has great salience for Zimbabwe today, where
the struggle for democracy requires both the need to limit the term
of office of the President as well as the need to ensure that elections
are genuinely competitive, and to begin the serious steps towards
a people-serving democracy. From the first serious challenge to
ZANU PF's hegemony in 2000 to the clear demonstration in 2008
that ZANU PF had actually lost
the elections, the dual struggle to overcome the "Big
Man" paradigm, and ensure legitimate elections, bedevils Zimbabwean
politics. Is Zimbabwe wholly out of step with the trend in Africa
towards democracy and genuine elections, or is it that Zimbabwe
represents the most extreme form of "dominant-power politics"
on the continent, another trend hidden beneath the veneer of a "shallow"
democracy? This article examines the Zimbabwe crisis against the
general trends towards democracy in Africa.
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