Southern African leaders sealed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s victory in elections the opposition said was rigged, underscoring the limits of regional efforts to uphold democracy.
The 15-nation Southern African Development Community and the African Union glossed over complaints from Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, that the electoral roll and voting process were manipulated. The U.S., U.K., European Union and domestic observers said irregularities had compromised the credibility of the election.
South African mediators mandated by SADC forced Mugabe, 89, into a unity government with two factions of the MDC after a 2008 vote that was marred by violence. SADC failed to enforce key provisions of the power-sharing accord including ensuring the impartiality of the security forces and the state media, which gave ZANU-PF’s election campaign blanket coverage and ridiculed the opposition.
“The MDC was outmaneuvered by Mugabe with the complicity of SADC,” Phil Mtimkulu, a politics lecturer at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said in a phone interview yesterday. “SADC should have called Mugabe to order. As soon as he stands up and shouts at them, they backpedal. They don’t want to hang out their dirty linen in public.”
Mugabe secured 61 percent of the July 31 presidential vote to extend his 33-year rule, while his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front won a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
ZANU-PF used the security forces to control the voting process, thousands of people were turned away from polling stations and voters were bussed in to cast ballots outside their home areas, Tsvangirai, 61, told reporters in Harare on Aug. 3.
“Those who would like to wash their hands over this issue, they will do so,” he said. “Zimbabweans will have to contend with this situation on a daily basis.”
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which deployed more than 7,000 domestic observers to monitor the vote, said on Aug. 1 that 1 million urban voters were unable to cast ballots as the registration process was biased against them. Mugabe barred Western nations from observing the election.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the vote “deeply flawed” that said it didn’t represent a “credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.” The European Union and U.K. also raised concerns about irregularities.
While a 442-member SADC observer team found the vote was “free and peaceful,” it can only assess the fairness of the election after 30 days, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said on Aug. 2. The grouping is likely to endorse the vote, he said.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed a 69-member AU observer mission, described the election as free and “fairly credible,” while South African President Jacob Zuma said on Aug. 4 that all Zimbabwe’s political parties should accept the outcome of the vote.
“SADC and South Africa aren’t prepared to stand firm against Mugabe,” Gilbert Khadiagala, an international relations professor at the University of Witwatersrand, said by phone from Johannesburg yesterday. “They talk the talk but they don’t really do the walking. They have never been clear in consistently applying their common standards on governance and democracy that they set themselves.”
Botswana was the only SADC nation to break ranks, calling yesterday for an independent audit of the election. Irregularities revealed by observers “cannot be considered as an acceptable standard for free and fair elections in SADC,” the government said in a statement.
“SADC still rates stability and history higher than fairness when it comes to elections, in part because it is a cartel of incumbents and in part because it has little real power to take or enforce more risky positions,” Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday.
“I don’t think SADC has much credibility as a promoter of democracy,” he said. “It’s mostly a protector of the status quo.”
In June, SADC urged Zimbabwean authorities to delay the elections until conditions were created for the vote to be free and fair. Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court ruled against a postponement and SADC backed down.
Mugabe had threatened to withdraw from SADC if it did anything “stupid” during or after the election. He also showed his disdain for the South African mediation effort when he described Zuma’s foreign policy adviser Lindiwe Zulu as “a street woman” after she called for a delay in the vote.
SADC’s failure to confront the election’s deficiencies undermines democracy in the region, said Brian Raftopolous, a Mugabe critic and director of research at the Solidarity Peace Trust, a church-backed human rights group. Several regional nations will hold elections next year, including South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique.
“SADC has not fulfilled its mandate,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “Provided there was no overt violence, they were prepared to overlook all other administrative electoral irregularities.”
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