TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The June 27 Elections in the Eyes of the Zimbabwean Voter and the Opposition

“Makavhotera Papi?” “Where did you place your vote?” Those are the words Zimbabwean voters have heard over and over again from their Head of State and former hero, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, delivered via the lips of chain- and club-wielding militias in the dark of the night. Those are the words that have brought tears, heartbreak, and the chill of terror to many homes. And now, when it’s almost time to place yet another vote, with the question now being “What will the voters do this time?” right there in the middle of everything, the opposition contestant, Morgan Tsvangirai, has announced that he is pulling out of the election and has fled into the Dutch Embassy. To complicate matters even more, the Mugabe government has insisted that the elections will go on as planned, with Tsvangirai’s name on it.

Just before the March 29 elections, Mugabe promised to accept the outcome of the poll and, in the event that he lost, he said he would accept it. As soon as the results showed that he and his party had lost the elections, he unleashed a violent campaign against the opposition and its perceived supporters. The campaign is led by war veterans and the notorious Border Gezi youths (the notorious Green Bombers), supported by the army. Now, just 12 days before the presidential election run-off, violence has escalated countrywide with reports of deaths every single day. Mugabe and his henchmen threaten to plunge the country into another war if he loses the presidential election run-off. State security forces have been deployed countrywide to try and rescue beleaguered Mugabe ahead of the critical presidential election.

The campaign environment has effectively been poisoned and the playing field dramatically tilted in favor of Mugabe. There is now a pervasive aura of fear surrounding the poll as the wave of terror ripples unabated through the country.

Tsvangirai’s campaign has been virtually brought to a standstill as police continue to harass him and his officials. It is a public secret that junior police officers are carrying orders from their superiors who are openly against Tsvangirai ruling the country as many of the superiors belong to the murderous War Veterans Association. Tsvangirai and his party officials have on several occasions been arrested and held at remote police stations to prevent his rallies from taking place. ZANU PF henchmen have invaded rally venues to be used by the MDC, as police stand by and watch as if to encourage their actions. The same police force has banned MDC activists from putting up campaign posters in Bulawayo arguing that “This is Mugabe’s country.” In Masvingo, ZANU PF youths and war veterans continue to destroy MDC campaign posters putting up their own instead, delivering severe beatings or even death to anyone who is even remotely associated with the MDC. People are being forced to put on ZANU PF campaign T-shirts. Residents in the high density suburbs have been told to take down their satellite dishes and watch the government controlled ZTV which churns out nothing but propaganda. The militias accuse those with satellite dishes of watching “lies” on the free channels beaming from neighboring South Africa, especially E-TV.

Vendors at flea markets are forced, with dire threats, to attend ZANU PF meetings, produce ZANU PF membership cards, and sometimes to close down their businesses in favor of ZANU PF favorites. Petrol bombs have become the order of the day in the countryside where war veterans and the youth militia are targeting MDC activists, supporters, and their homesteads. There are increasing cases of MDC supporters retaliating and going after the militia to avenge the brutality against their own, which has been met with even more brutality as Mugabe then mobilizes the whole state machinery against these small centers of resistance. Men of the cloth and religious gatherings have not been spared from the ongoing brutality. Clergymen have reportedly attacked and threatened for housing those fleeing terror in their rural homes. At Musiso Mission, priests’ houses were burnt to ashes after the militia accused the priests of taking in opposition supporters fleeing violence in rural Zaka.

Meanwhile election observers have been trickling in to the country to observe the June 27 election run-off. Their arrival is seen as very late considering that the violence started soon after the March 29 poll. The damage caused by the violence is already too big to imagine that the observers’ presence would change anything. The violence has not stopped anywhere, even as news of the arrival of the observers came. Most rural areas have become war zones. About 400 observers from SADC will be dispatched to various parts of the country to monitor the electoral environment as well as the conduct. Apart form the SADC observer team, The Pan African Parliament (PAP) observer mission is already in the country. Observers from SADC say they are here just as a formality as nothing concrete or binding would come out of their observing mission. The Zimbabwe Independent quoted one of the observers saying when they go back to their respective countries, their leaders will then issue statements that really do not mean anything to the people of Zimbabwe. The observer added that what further exacerbated the situation were the divisions within the block SADC itself, with South Africa rallying behind Mugabe while others were in favor of a more critical approach. Sources also revealed that the observers had been ordered (unofficially) by the Mugabe government, to conduct their operations from morning till as late as 5pm only. This is unheard of, as all are conscious of the fact that violence and intimidation is mostly done under the cover of darkness. The United Nations said it was willing to send an observer mission but is yet to get invited by the Mugabe administration. It is highly unlikely that Mugabe will extend the invitation to the UN to send election observers for the June 27 presidential run-off election. Mugabe views the presence of the UN observers as meddling and in internal affairs of a sovereign nation. He also believes that the British and American governments are arm twisting the UN to oversee the regime change in Zimbabwe. The two governments are accused of bankrolling the opposition to topple his government as well as sponsoring NGOs that are seen as fronts for the opposition agenda of regime change.

The electoral court has started hearing election petitions filed by both MDC and ZANU PF, dismissing two petitions from both parties as they were filed out of time, wrongly cited ZEC as a respondent and service of the petitions was done at party headquarters instead of the respondents’ residential address or business address. Both MDC and ZANU PF filed a total of 105 election petitions, and the ruling by the court indicates that all the other challenges from both parties would be thrown out.

With the ZANU PF government firmly in control of the election process, and with this orgy of violence enfolding the nation, it is unlikely that Mugabe would lose this charade of an election. The most likely outcome is that, through (rigging, even at this point, estimated to be greater that in the March 29 elections), and intimidation, Mugabe will emerge as the apparent victor and be swiftly declared winner. Such an announcement would provide his presidency with the false veneer of legality and provide him with a platform from which he can defend his autocratic rule. In addition, this would place Tsvangirai and the MDC on the back foot, forcing them to take the position of the losing challengers to the incumbent—a position they have held futilely for almost a decade.

The other, less likely but possible scenario is that Zimbabwean voters would bravely ignore all the violence and the very realistic threats and vote for Tsvangirai in enough numbers to offset the effect of the rigging. Although this is the outcome that the great majority of Zimbabweans hope for, it is not clear, in the current situation of state-sponsored violence, what its implications would be. Since March 29, Mugabe and his ZANU PF establishment have demonstrated just how far they are prepared to go to thwart the democratic process, and it is unlikely that they will accept defeat. The possibility of ZANU PF elements carrying out their threat to thwart Tsvangirai’s bid even if he wins is very real. They have the institutional capacity and the will to carry out their threat.

Seen from the point of view of ordinary Zimbabwean voters, the situation is even more depressing. Toward the March 29 elections, they saw a slackening of the Zimbabwe Electoral Act, and slight slackening of the violence. They saw the presence of international observers, and they noticed that MDC was allowed some room (though not much) to campaign, and they believed that the end of the Mugabe Dictatorship was drawing close, and flooded to the polls and voted their choice. The days since have proved them terribly mistaken. The international observers packed their bags and went home to their safe countries, then Mugabe held on to the ballots for an astounding five weeks and then released a result that no one believed. Polling officers (most of them poor school teachers only trying to supplement their meager income) have been arrested, tortured, and held in detention for allowing MDC wins in their polling stations. They have seen the government mobilize and expand its terror structures and go on to unleash a violence campaign of stunning proportions while the world watched and did nothing. Thabo Mbeki, the man the world had entrusted with monitoring and resolving the crisis, openly announced, right in the middle of the chaos, that “there is no crisis in Zimbabwe” and that Mugabe should be allowed his hand.

It therefore seems that the Zimbabwean voter has no support except for his own resources, and whatever anyone else says, until such a date and time that organizations like SADC, the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations Security Council, and powers like the United States, the UK, Australia, and South Africa decide to step in and play a greater role in Zimbabwe’s security situation, ZANU PF holds the real power in the country. With the ZANU PF’s track record, the average Zimbabwean goes against it at his own peril. Rural voters do not vote for ZANU PF because they love it or because they are less educated, but because they wisely realize that their very lives lie in the hands of henchmen who, if they chose to (which they often do), would torture and kill them without any hesitation.

From thorough investigations, it is clear that far more people have been killed than those the MDC has reported as most of the killings take place in the rural areas that are considered no-go zones for the opposition. The reason for the discrepancy—the MDC has no access to the information. Most of the victims are not really connected to the opposition party. Instead, they are killed for such trivial things as failing to attend ZANU PF meetings, not producing a ZANU PF party card upon demand, or simply because they bumped into ZANU PF militias while walking around in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

ZANU PF henchmen have effectively sealed off many of the rural areas in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, and Manicaland. The independent press, non-governmental organizations, and diplomats have been banned from travelling or working outside Harare. None of the village people may leave their homes without permission from the local War Veterans (who sometimes work directly from the same offices as the defeated ZANU PF member of parliament), and then they may not be gone for more than three days. None of the friends and family based in the towns and cities may visit. Any villager who gets an unexpected guest has to take him to the War Veterans militia, who will then vet him to decide whether or not he may be classified as MDC, and then he would have to attend all ZANU PF activities and stay only for as long as the militias decide. Often, villagers have been branded MDC for having a guest who did not know how to chant ZANU PF slogans or (Heaven forbid!) did not carry a ZANU PF membership card, to say nothing of the safety of the guest.

Apart from the current violence, the voting system itself is terribly faulty, allowing Mugabe’s militias to point out to within a few houses, who voted for MDC, which makes the retributive violence devastatingly accurate. It allows the henchmen to go back to communities perceived to be MDC supporters and make an example. At the moment, these murderous groups, among them the official army and police, are moving around these rural communities beating and killing people (many of the murders go unreported because of the way the government has clamped down on the rural areas) and threatening to wipe out whole neighborhoods if there is so much as a single MDC vote in them.

The most startling aspect about this violence is not that it is happening, but that the world is permitting it, condoning it, and, as in the South African example, abetting it. MDC, being at the moment only a challenger to Mugabe’s entrenched and ruthless power, lacks the means to protect itself and ordinary Zimbabweans. This leaves only one effective player on the scene, and that is Mugabe, with the murderous ZANU PF at his command. The people of Zimbabwe have to survive somehow, even if this means complying with a madman’s unthinkable demands—bowing under pressure and even voting for him. By not acting against Mugabe’s brutal rule, the world might be, by default, electing this maniac and his followers to rule the country for at least another five years and perpetuating Zimbabwe’s suffering.

It is in the light of all these factors that Tsvangirai’s decision to withdraw from the run-off election is to be viewed. For him, campaigning in any form has effectively been outlawed. Opposition rallies have been banned, Tsvangirai may not air his adverts on the country’s only radio and television network and the militias who, in the last few weeks have taken up the streets of Harare make it a life threatening phenomenon just to have access to international radio or television.

To make matters worse, Mugabe and his ZANU PF government are cutting down drastically on the numbers of international observers permitted into the country for the June 27 election. The March 29 elections saw Zimbabwe receiving 10,000 international observers for 9,900 polling stations, ensuring that there was at least one international for each polling station. Now that number has been reduced to 5,000 international observers, which is approximately half the number of the polling stations, leaving room for massive election rigging. The Mugabe government has been even more ruthless with local observers, cutting their numbers down by almost ridiculous proportions. For instance, the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which provided 500 observers in March, has now been reduced to a mere five. Where MDC polling agents and official are concerned, Mugabe’s policy has been simple: kill them all wherever they are found. International media has been banned, and even within Zimbabwe the only journalists who can operate are those who, through the much-hated Media and Information Commission, have been thoroughly investigated and vetted by Mugabe’s notorious CIO.

For Tsvangirai to continue with this charade of an election would have simply meant perpetuating the killings and torture of innocent Zimbabweans, leading to a pseudo-legalization of this monstrous dictatorship. This way, if Mugabe is to stay in power, it would be without the pretense of being an elected leader, and, who knows, the international community might come knocking on Zimbabwe’s door to try and resolve the crisis.

Reposted from the Novo Zim website.

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