By: Agnes Miriam
The Republic of Zimbabwe held its presidential and parliamentary elections on 23 August 2023. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced Incumbent Emmerson D. Mnangagwa of the Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) was re-elected president with 52.6% of the votes. His opponent, Mr Nelson Chamisa, opposition leader of the Citizen’s Coalition for Change (CCC), received 44% of the votes. ZANU-PF also won the most seats in both houses of parliament, obtaining 33 out of 60 seats in the Senate and 175 out of 280 seats in the National Assembly. The CCC won 27 seats in the Senate and 104 in the National Assembly. One parliamentary seat is vacant at the time of writing.
Although the 2023 elections were deemed peaceful compared to those of 2018, they were marked by a restricted political environment, tensions and delays as the electoral commission failed to deliver election material on time. The delays caused President Mnangagwa to extend voting by one day. The opposition condemned the delays as clear examples of voter suppression and rigging. Mr Chamisa rejected the results, saying there were irregularities and that the elections were rushed. Election observers from the South African Development Community (SADC) and the European Union (EU) criticised the delays. They noted that the polls failed to meet regional and international standards and lacked independence and transparency. Furthermore, the elections reportedly took place in a “climate of fear” and included bans on opposition rallies and arrests of activists. Opposition candidates feared that the Criminal Law Code amendment prohibiting acts against “the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” would be used against those critical of the government.
Zimbabwe has a bicameral Parliament with 80 members in the Senate and 280 in the National Assembly. Of the 80 seats in the Senate, 60 are directly elected. Of the remaining 20, Traditional Leaders have 18 seats, and two are reserved for persons with disabilities (one for a male and one for a female representative). In 2021, the membership in the National Assembly increased from 270 to 280 due to the 10 additional seats for candidates aged between 21 and 25. Of the 280 seats in the National Assembly 210 are directly elected, 60 are reserved for women, and 10 seats are served for candidates aged 21 to 35. All members of the Senate and the National Assembly serve 5-year terms. The President is directly elected for five years and may be reelected for a second term. If a presidential candidate fails to obtain 50% of the votes, a second round is held between the two candidates with the most votes. The President serves as head of State and government.
In 2013, the Zimbabwean Parliament adopted a gender quota which reserves 60 seats for women in the National Assembly. It was set to expire in 2023 but was extended to include elections held in 2023, 2028, 2033 and 2038. Furthermore, each candidate list must consist of at least ten women under the age of 35 and women and young with disabilities. Candidate list for Senate elections must alternatively list candidates of both genders, and a woman candidate must lead every list.
The 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination. It provides for the right to vote and stand for election to public office and, if elected, hold such office. It also requires the State to take all measures to ensure that “women constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established.”
Women’s Political Participation
In the recently concluded polls, women hold 86 (30.71%) out of the 280 members of the National Assembly, compared to 85 (31.14%) out of 270 in 2018. In the Senate, 36 (45%) out of the 80 senators are women, compared to 35 (43.74%) in 2018. Overall, there has been little change in women’s representation in both houses of parliament.
In the 2023 elections to the National Assembly, 70 women stood for election against 637 male candidates. The total number of female candidates nominated in 2023 decreased to 11%, down from 14.4% in 2018. By election day, the number dropped to 9.5% (55 female candidates.) Thus, political parties were unable to reach a gender balance among the candidates nominated for the directly elected seats.
The low number of women candidates was attributed to various reasons, such as a strong male patronage system within political parties, nepotism in selecting candidates for reserved seats in the National Assembly, and internal structural barriers within parties. There were also reported cases of gender-based violence, cyberbullying, online smear campaigns, and harassment by opponents and the general public. Further hindering women seeking political office is the 2022 Law, upheld by the Zimbabwean courts, that increased candidate registration fees to USD 20,000 for presidential candidates and USD 1,000 for National Assembly candidates. Moreover, while Zimbabwe’s legal framework contains commitments to ensure gender parity and provides temporary measures to promote women’s participation, these have not yet been fully realised. There are no sanctions for non-compliance.
Of the 11 presidential candidates in the 2023 elections, there was only one woman, Elizabeth Valerio of the United Zimbabwe Alliance (UZA), compared to 4 female presidential candidates in 2018. Ms Valerio’s candidacy became possible only after the Electoral Court of Zimbabwe overturned the Nomination Court’s rejection of her registration on technical grounds. At the local level, Ms Shantel Chiwara, aged 25, became the first female major in Masvingo.
Women’s representation and participation in the election process as voters and other positions related to the election were reportedly strong. On election day, the African Union (AU) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Election Observation Mission (EOM) reported that women represented 72% of the election officials, 54% of the political party and candidate agents and 51% of the local observers in the polling station visited.
Women’s rights organisations and female politicians undertook efforts to strengthen women’s political participation and increase the number of female candidates during the 2023 elections. Several women’s rights organisations came together and produced an election charter titled ‘Women’s Political Participation and Decision Making”, which they handed out to political parties. It calls for, among others, requirements for political parties to pay attention to campaign financing and violence against women in elections, proposals on accountability and ending impunity, and changes that would align laws and electoral systems to the constitution.
Female politicians organised “Dialogue Sessions with Parliament and electoral management bodies” so that the gender quota is extended to women at the local authority level before the 2023 general elections. Moreover, the dialogues resulted in developing a roadmap to operationalise the quota. Steps include capacitating women politicians and strengthening youth participation in governance processes. The exchanges also demonstrated the need for the economic empowerment of female politicians and to ensure that their activities have sufficient funding.
Zimbabwe has also enacted legislation to strengthen women’s rights in other areas beyond political and public life. For example, the 2022 Marriage Act prohibits child marriage and sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. In line with Zimbabwe’s Constitution, the Act states that both parties must give their full and free consent to the marriage. The Labor Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender and sexual harassment. Additionally, Zimbabwe’s National Gender Policy of 2017 emphasises eradicating gender discrimination and inequalities in all spheres of life and development.
Following the presidential and parliamentary elections held on 23 August 2023, the Incumbent President, Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ZANU-PF party, was declared the winner with 52.6% votes. The ZANU-PF also secured the most seats in both houses of parliament. In general, women’s representation in both houses of parliament held steady. In the National Assembly, women now have 86 out of the 280 seats and in the Senate, 36 out of the 80 seats. Notably, the gender quota set to expire in 2023 was extended until 2038.
Female politicians and women's rights organisations, such as the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe, play a central role in increasing women's full participation in political life and decision-making processes and strengthening women's rights in Zimbabwe. Women's rights organisations came together, presented an election charter and called for actions to ensure more women participated in the 2023 polls. Women politicians also organised to increase women's political participation, particularly at the local level.