Monday, March 31, 2008

Elections in Zimbabwe

You may have heard that there has been an election going on in Zimbabwe. In what will be a test for democracy in southern Africa, the results may well decide the fate of liberal democracy in much of the under-developed world. The BBC has an interesting pictorial essay on the election, and it fits nicely with their streaming of 'on the ground' contributions and observations that have been solicited from all over the country. This is an excellent insight for those of us lucky enough to live in stable countries, and should remind us to be very thankful for our comparatively 'dull' electoral systems. The Times over the weekend featured an excellent article that spoke of the "the electricity of hope" that can be felt in the electoral processes of developing countries.

In a result that has – to be frank – stunned me, independent monitoring groups have said that returns posted at about two-thirds of polling stations have given Tsvangirai 55% of the vote to Mugabe's 36%. A third presidential candidate, Simba Makoni received about 9% of the vote. Monitors said there is now no way for Mugabe to legitimately win the election. Mark Malloch-Brown of the British foreign office said that it was "quite likely" that Mugabe had lost despite "massive pre-election day cheating".

Now it is important to remember that – under Mugabe – inflation runs at 100,000%, and in what should be a peaceful and prospering nation sees people scrabbling around for food and fuel. My own feelings about this election were bleak, as all of the signs were that Mugabe has ensured that he and his party would win, and that the status quo would prevail. Leaked documents showed that nine million ballot papers had been ordered for the 5.9 million people registered to vote, and that vote rigging had begun prior to the election proper. Moreover, police have been allowed a 'supervisory role' inside polling stations rather than outside, a move designed to intimidate voters given the history of state violence towards anyone who opposes the government.

Unsurprisingly, Mugabe appears to be attempting to cling to power, despite what appears to be a (remarkably) clear defeat. The government is refusing to allow the electoral commission to release official results and has, true to form, offered unsubtle threats to the main opposition party. In a move that would make George Orwell blush with its brazenness, Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba has warned Movement for Democratic Change candidate Morgan Tsvangirai not to claim victory and declare himself president. For Charamba and Mugabe, such a move "is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled". The Economist recorded immediately prior to the election that "the heads of the army, police and the prison service have all flatly stated that they would not let Mr Mugabe be beaten", and speculated that in the event of a loss, he would call a state of emergency or somehow have the challenger disbarred.

I just hope that this goes well, and justice and common sense prevails. If somehow Mugabe holds on, I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat of the violent aftermath of the Kenyan elections in December. If that does happen, the African Union (AU) simply must be ready to quickly offer mediation and a transitional government. Otherwise Africa is headed for more of the same. Andebrhan Giorgis, of the International Crisis Group think-tank, has warned: "If the region's leaders were again to recognise an illegitimate government, Zimbabwe's dramatic economic disintegration would continue, and the inevitable next round of the struggle over Mugabe's succession could easily provoke bloodshed."

I've got my fingers crossed on this one.

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