Tsvangirai Fights to Oust Mugabe in Zimbabwe Election
Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai must overcome a flawed voters’ roll and the hostility of the military in a presidential vote tomorrow if he’s to end the 33-year rule of Africa’s oldest leader, Robert Mugabe.
With Zimbabwe Defense Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga calling him a “psychiatric patient,” Tsvangirai’s campaign has also faced a virtual boycott by the state media. A million people who are dead or who have disappeared are on the voters’ roll, while 18 to 30-year-olds missing from the list make up 29 percent of the voting age population, according to the independent Research and Advocacy Unit.
“Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group research group said in a report yesterday. “The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced.”
The election, the fourth time Tsvangirai has tried to replace Mugabe, 89, in the presidential State House in Harare, will end their coalition that was formed in 2009 after the last vote was aborted amid violence and allegations of afraud. The 15-nation Southern African Development Community then negotiated a power-sharing agreement.
SADC’s chief observer, Bernard Membe, expressed concern yesterday that the electoral roll hadn’t been released.
“It has to be made available for the people to see; for the people to verify their names; for the people to know where they’re going to vote,” Membe told the BBC Focus on Africa program.
During the life of the power-sharing government, ministers from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change helped to steer Zimbabwe out of recession and slow inflation that had soared to 500 billion percent according to the International Monetary Fund. The economy has grown every year since 2009, with Finance Minister Tendai Biti predicting 3.4 percent growth this year and inflation to slow to 3.9 percent from 5 percent.
The MDC had far less success in convincing police and military leaders to abandon their allegiance to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, which led the guerrilla war that brought independence to the country, formerly known as Rhodesia.
Should Tsvangirai and the MDC win the presidential and parliamentary elections, the possibility of a military coup “would be a real threat,” John Meyer, a mining analyst at London-based SP Angel Corporate Finance LLP, said in a July 24 interview.
“It’s so hard imagining someone handing over the keys of State House to the MDC,” Jolyon Ford, a political analyst with Oxford Analytica, said in an interview, referring to the presidential residence in Harare, the capital. “Zanu-PF has been a part of Zimbabwe for so long, there’s a whole fabric of the state which has to become disentangled from the party.”
Tsvangirai, a 61-year-old former labor leader, led Mugabe in the first round of elections in 2008 before abandoning a run-off, saying more than 200 of his supporters were killed before and after the vote. The MDC won a majority in parliament.
That shows “it’s impossible to contrive a victory out of what is a massive, massive loss,” Ford said.
Their rivalry started in 2000 when the MDC successfully campaigned against a Mugabe-backed constitutional amendment. Facing the first serious threat to its rule since the end of colonial rule in 1980, Zanu-PF initiated a violent invasion of white-owned commercial farm land. That precipitated an economic collapse that ended only with the coalition government almost a decade later.
If tomorrow’s vote is transparent, peaceful and credible, the European Union has pledged to lift sanctions imposed on Mugabe and his key allies. It’ll make its decision based on the judgment from SADC, which has sent 442 election observers to a country bigger than Germany.
“SADC is going to be pragmatic about this,” Knox Chitiyo, an analyst with London-based Chatham House, said by phone. “What they want is a reasonably credible process where everyone who’s eligible votes. A small amount of variations, a few anomalies is par for the course, it’ll be accepted.”
While the number of registered voters has increased to 6.2 million from 5.2 million in 2008, thousands more weren’t able to register because of the limited time given for the process, Aisha Abdullahi, a member of the African Union observer mission, told reporters on July 26.
The electoral commission has printed 8.7 million ballots, the body’s chairwoman, Rita Makarau, told reporters yesterday in Harare.
The MDC complain to SADC that it hasn’t had access to the voters’ roll yet, party secretary-general Biti said yesterday. The party’s deputy organizing secretary, Morgan Komichi, was arrested after reporting that marked ballot papers had been dumped. He will be detained as long as he refuses to disclose the identity of the person who gave him the papers, according to police.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on July 13 said it will announce results of the presidential vote on Aug. 5. The process took about a month in 2008. It hasn’t set a date for results from the parliamentary ballot to be released.
During the last election, Zimbabwe’s military “played a major role in supporting political violence that resulted in over 2,000 beatings and cases of torture and the killing of at least 36 MDC supporters,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in June 5 report.
“This time around violence is still an issue but not as much as it was last time,” Chitiyo said. “The real concerns have been around the logistics of the poll.”
Tsvangirai may be buoyed by a coalition with Zanu-PF defectors including former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who garnered 8 percent of the vote at the 2008 vote. They have failed to agree on an alliance with another MDC faction and former Zanu-PF member Dumiso Dabengwa.
“One newspaper says Mugabe will win by a landslide, another says Tsvangirai will be in State House in a few days,” Jokonya Pasi, a motor mechanic in Harare’s Ashbrittle suburb said. “This is Zimbabwe: the only thing that is certain is that everything is uncertain.”
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