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Will Zimbabwe’s Elections Be Free?

Robert Mugabe has promised that today's elections in the suffering country of Zimbabwe will be "fair." Here are ten reasons to doubt his sincerity.

by
Norman Geras

Bio

March 29, 2008 - 1:00 am

With a once prosperous country now ruined and hunger widespread there, and the rate of inflation by some estimates at 200,000 percent and rising, one might imagine that Robert Mugabe is on course to lose the election in Zimbabwe this weekend — especially since, as he is reported to be insisting, the election will be fair. Here are ten reasons for doubting this.

1. Observers from countries with a record of being critical of Zimbabwe’s electoral procedures are barred from any monitoring role tomorrow.

2. Zimbabwe’s police and defense chiefs have publicly stated that western-supported “puppets” — which echoes Mugabe’s own reference to the Zimbabwean opposition as “stooges” of Britain — won’t be allowed to govern the country.

3. Police, it has been reported, are to have access to voting booths, supposedly to help the handicapped.

4. Human Rights Watch says there has been widespread intimidation by supporters of the ruling party.

5. Amnesty International also has reports of arrests of opposition campaign workers.

6. The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network reports the pulling down of opposition election posters and improper use of state resources for the ruling party’s campaign.

7. The lights were out one evening at the Victoria Falls Hotel: “As one of the managers explained: ‘The opposition is having a rally in the stadium so they have turned off the electricity. Don’t worry, it’ll be turned back on when they leave.’ Sure enough, at 6.30 p.m. sharp the lights abruptly burst into life.”

8. There are the names of dead people on the electoral rolls and of ghost voters whose addresses place them on totally empty plots of ground.

9. The opposition claim: “leaked documents showed that 9 million ballot papers were ordered for the 5.9 million people registered to vote next Saturday, and that 600,000 postal ballot papers were requisitioned for a few thousand soldiers, police, and civil servants away from their home districts and for diplomats and their families abroad.”

10. Mugabe speaks with a kind of certainty about the outcome that is troubling in the light of all the points above: “Tsvangirai will never, never rule this country.”

I hesitate to predict what is going to happen. Could this election herald the beginning of the end of Zimbabwe’s agony? I would like to be able to hope so. But I fear that it won’t — indeed that the country may be on the brink of worse yet, post-election violence either if Mugabe loses or if there is a widespread sense that he has won fraudulently. Whatever happens, the words of Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer and lawyer, are apposite in the circumstances. She speaks of “the lie that taking power from the colonialists and delivering democracy to the people are one and the same.”

Norman Geras, who was born in Zimbabwe, is Professor Emeritus in Politics at the University of Manchester. He blogs at normblog.

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