Analysis: Will the people's voice be heard

Election fraud mars Zimbabwe politics.

Zimbabwe elections 224.8 (photo credit: AP )
Zimbabwe elections 224.8
(photo credit: AP )
Reports of widespread election fraud and voter intimidation have marred Zimbabwe's latest round of presidential and parliamentary elections. Delays in the announcement of results have led to mounting tensions, with opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accusing incumbent president Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party of using the time to tamper with the votes. Despite the fact that official results for the presidential votes have not yet been released, MDC has proclaimed that their party's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has defeated Mugabe. If this, in fact, turns out to be contrary to the official results, tensions could easily escalate to street demonstrations and subsequently bloodshed, with riot police already deployed and Mugabe being known for his heavy-handed approach to any form of dissent. When reviewing Zimbabwe's latest elections, one sees similar patterns to those held in 2002, when Mugabe won presidential elections amid claims by international observers that the election was severely flawed. Their reports gave details of political violence and intimidation used against both MDC officials and supporters of the opposition, as well as flaws in voter registration and violence used against independent media outlets as to ensure media bias favoring Mugabe. A shortage of polling booths in areas dominated by the opposition was also reported and over 1,000 polling agents and monitors from the opposition were arrested, allowing Mugabe to maintain his grip on power and secure his election win. Significantly, when Western observers criticized the 2002 election process, Mugabe threw them out of the country. That is the main reason he refused to allow objective and impartial monitors to cover the current election. Mugabe has, however, permitted observers from a few select countries considered allies of the ZANU-PF - including China, Iran, Libya and Venezuela - to act as election monitors. This has brought widespread criticism from opposition leaders, who say that these countries are notorious for silencing their own opposition, and thus incapable of ensuring the fairness of Zimbabwe's elections. The current election paints a similar picture. Voter intimidation and vote buying in the lead-up to the elections indicated that it would be anything but free and fair, thus making it very difficult for opposition leaders to defeat Mugabe. Tsvangirai in the days leading to the elections revealed that nine million ballot papers had been ordered by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). The problem is that according to official figures, only 5.9 million Zimbabweans are eligible to vote. The ZEC is controlled by the government and thus is viewed as merely another tool used by Mugabe to secure his power. Emblematic of Mugabe's reckless behavior, food aid has also been used as a political weapon, with critical food supplies provided only to those who pledged their vote for Mugabe. This has forced many who would otherwise vote for the opposition to give up their voting preference in order to survive, emphasizing the power Mugabe wields over the population. Nevertheless, these latest elections have been Mugabe's toughest political challenge since coming to power in 1980, with Tsvangirai and independent candidate Simba Makoni focusing their campaigns on Zimbabwe's dire economic state. The majority of Zimbabweans are surviving on less than $1 a day, while basic commodities are in short supply. Life expectancy has plummeted to 37 years for men and 34 for women. Corruption, nepotism and reckless governance has resulted in Zimbabwe having the world's fastest-shrinking economy with 100,000 percent inflation, 80% unemployment, and extreme poverty and famine. The close election results have raised glimmers of hope that Zimbabwe's political landscape might soon change. This would be a momentous victory for not only the MDC, but also for ordinary Zimbabweans who would be given a chance of a brighter future. Nevertheless, Zimbabweans know that Mugabe is unlikely to relinquish power so easily, and thus they continue to wait for the final election results, hoping that the will of the people will be heard. Shani Ross is co-coordinator of the Executive Studies Program at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.