Robert Mugabe Said to Ready Military to Back Election Bid

Zimbabwean security officials are considering deploying soldiers, police and youth militia to intimidate voters ahead of an election this year in a bid to extend President Robert Mugabe’s 33 years in power, two senior members of his party said.

The campaign would focus on rural voters because of the strong urban support for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, said the members of the politburo of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, known as Zanu-PF. They declined to be identified because of concern for their safety. Zanu-PF denies that it plans to use violence to sway the vote.

“Violence is institutionalized within Zanu-PF’s repertoire. They know how much they’ve gained and they know they can get away with it,” Susan Booysen, a political analyst with Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand, said in an interview from Cape Town today. “All they need to do is keep voters away from the ballot with intimidation, or intimidate them into voting for Zanu-PF to gain a slim upper-hand.”

Mugabe, 89, has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, when a guerrilla army he led toppled a whites-only government, paving the way for elections brokered by former colonial power, the U.K. He narrowly won a vote in 2000 against the MDC after a campaign said by observers, including those from the European Union to be characterized by violence and electoral irregularities favoring Mugabe’s party.

Violence, Fraud

Three subsequent elections were marred by violence and vote fraud. Tsvangirai, 61, pulled out of a 2008 presidential run-off after saying his followers were being attacked and killed by Mugabe’s supporters. He had garnered the most votes in the first round.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community forced Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a coalition government in 2009 and agree to organize new elections to end the political dispute and a decade-long economic recession. As part of the agreement Zanu-PF kept control of the military while the MDC took over economic ministries.

Military officials and a number of cabinet ministers are concerned that should Mugabe and his party lose elections, they may face charges over human-rights violations related to violent election campaigns as well as being made to account for corruption, the officials said.

Diamonds, Platinum

Zimbabwe’s Treasury has questioned transactions in a program of forcing foreign businesses including Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. to cede stakes to the government’s National Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Board and black Zimbabweans as well as diamond mining on the eastern Marange field, from which it says it gets no benefit. New York-based Human Rights Watch is among rights groups that have accused the military of involvement in gem extraction and smuggling.

Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest platinum and chrome reserves after South Africa as well as deposits of gold and coal. Companies including Rio Tinto Plc, Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Barclays Plc and Standard Chartered Plc operate in the country.

Police and other security agencies may also step up arrests and harassment of opposition figures and civil rights activists ahead of the election so that the European Union doesn’t further ease sanctions on the country’s leaders, the officials said. Those sanctions are used as a pretext for banning foreign election observers. The EU this week lifted sanctions on some Zimbabwean officials while leaving them intact on key allies of Mugabe.

Generals Summoned

Mugabe and his generals haven’t been removed from the EU sanctions list, according to EU documents.

Zimbabwe’s army generals have twice been summoned to South Africa, a member of SADC, in the past two months and warned by the government and military there to keep soldiers in their barracks before the elections, the party officials said. Those warnings may be disregarded as the generals feel there is little South Africa can practically do to intervene, they said.

Zanu-PF will abide by SADC’s wishes for a peaceful ballot, Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for the party, said in a telephone interview March 26.

In January Mugabe agreed to a vote on a new constitution, which was held on March 16, and said there would be elections later this year. The new constitution is key step in the agreement negotiated by SADC toward fresh elections.

The role of the military “is always a worrying concern in the political arena, where the MDC believes they have no place,” Douglas Mwonzora, a spokesman for Tsvangirai’s party, said in an interview yesterday. “Its a major concern, as is the resurgence of violence.”

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