Day By Day

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Zimbabwe -- Mobilizing the Masses?

Voters went to the polls in Zimbabwe today to choose members of that nation's parliament. There was a widespread presumption that the election has been rigged in favor of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front] Party. Nonetheless some members of the opposition MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] Party were hopeful that they could wrest control from the dictator.

Past elections have been marred by widespread violence and fraud that have allowed Mugabe to remain in power for a quarter of a century despite growing opposition. There was widespread expectation that this election would be no different. There were several reports going into the election of intimidation of voters and poll workers, violence, and even abduction of candidates. Mugabe's declaration a few days ago that his opposition consisted of "traitors" was an ominous sign. Similar declarations had preceded earlier violent episodes. Mugabe's decision to use his police as poll watchers heightened fears of violence and intimidation. So far, though, AP reports the polling has been relatively peaceful.
Under international pressure to produce a credible result, Mugabe's government and party ratcheted down the bloodletting that has plagued previous elections in this southern African country. [here]

The MDC has little hope of winning. Even if they win a majority of the election contests Mugabe will appoint one fifth of the members of parliament, virtually assuring ZANU of a majority. And, in the case of a close and contested election, Mugabe reserves the right to dissolve parliament and to rule by decree. There is also the fact that Mugabe refuses to allow western observers to certify the election, raising the expectation that he will engage in massive fraud. The US has branded Mugabe's tactics "despicable."

Reuters reports:
The United States and European Union have attacked the validity of the election, which follows polls in 2000 and 2002 marred by bloodshed and charges of fraud and voter intimidation. Washington says Mugabe has exploited food shortages for electoral advantage, a frequent charge by opposition supporters but denied by the government.

"Our understanding is that ruling party candidates have given out government owned food to draw voters to rallies. And that is, frankly, a despicable practice,"State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters. [here]

Voting has now concluded and ballot counting has begun. Official results will not be announced for forty-eight hours, however there is little question as to who will be proclaimed the winner -- ZANU.

Now the real contest begins:

Earlier this week Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo called for massive popular demonstrations modeled on those in Ukraine and Lebanon in the case of a ZANU victory. Today New Zimbabwe reports:
Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ...has hinted that it would mobilise widespread street protests should it lose the elections.

"We are not going to court this time -- that proved futile in 2000 and 2002," the MDC's secretary general Welshman Ncube said. "It is clear to us that the answer lies in the mobilisation of the masses."

The party accuses Mugabe's Zanu PF of intimidation and points to the widely condemned voters' roll as evidence that the elections are a fix. The party says it has unearthed evidence that 800 000 names on the voters' roll are of dead people.

Read the article here. The site also has a discussion forum that is tracking the election results here.

Will there be protests? If there are, how will Mugabe respond? This is crunch time for democracy. This is a very dangerous situation. Stay tuned....

I have blogged the runup to the election extensively. Just scroll down.
Publius Pundit is also blogging the elections and has some good commentary here.
Sokwanele is posting regular updates on the election and its aftermath here.

Once again the limits of democratic reform are being tested by people who are demanding the substance rather than just the forms of democracy.


Reuters reports:

Officials and an independent monitoring body said tens of thousands of voters were turned away from polling stations across the country for a variety of reasons.

Foreign critics led by the United States and the European Union dismissed Thursday's parliamentary vote as a sham, echoing opposition charges that Mugabe, 81, has used repressive laws, intimidation and even vital food supplies to engineer victory. "Generally we'd say that the campaigning took place in an atmosphere of intimidation," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the poll was fundamentally unfair, but remained upbeat as voting closed.

"We are happy because our supporters heeded our call to go early to vote ... we also expect a massive rural turnout," the MDC's acting director of elections, Lucia Matibenga, said.

Read it here.

So far, so good. No violence yet. Stay tuned...

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