Zimbabwe: Will ballots or bullets decide?
Three faux movie posters depicting Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, filched from a blog in neighboring South Africa. The top poster refers to his often violent anti-white land-redistribution program. Artist unknown, but Agence-Vleeptron Presse is trying to find out.
Zimbabwe, which has been ruled by Mugabe since the fall of the white-ruled government in 1980, is the former British colony and white-controlled Commonwealth breakaway nation Rhodesia.
There is widespread and credible worry that Mugabe will use the police and military to stay in power regardless of the election results. Zimbabwe is currently the world inflation champion, exceeding 100,000 percent. (Other recent winners of this questionable award have been Argentina and Israel.)
The governments of South Africa and other sub-Saharan nations have demonstrated a great reluctance to oppose or challenge Mugabe's regularly violent and lawless one-man one-party strong-man rule. To take public positions against Mugabe would make African governments appear, in the eyes of their own voters, to still be taking their instructions from the former white European colonial powers. This stance is both straightforwardly political, and an authentic reflection of the importance to black Africans of winning independence and self-determination from European colonial powers and white rule, often after bitter, long, violent struggles.
Whatever else he is, Mugabe is a powerful symbol of black independence from white colonial rule, proof that London no longer calls the shots or plays the tune to which African governments still dance.
For the past year the BBC has been banned from reporting from inside Zimbabwe; its correspondents have been setting up and filing on the election from across the border in Mozambique and South Africa. This morning it's impossible to connect with the website of the government-owned Harare Herald. One of the major complaints about the election is that opposition parties have had almost no access to Zimbabwe's mass media. Finally about a week ago The Harare Herald bowed to pressure from within and outside Zimbabwe and began running full-page color advertisements for the opposition MDC party.
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Reuters (newswire UK)
Monday 31 March 2008 02:03 EDT 07:03 GMT
MDC and ZANU-PF
run even in early
by Stella Mapenzauswa
HARARE (Reuters) -- Zimbabwe's opposition MDC and ruling ZANU-PF were running neck-and-neck, according to the first election results issued by the Electoral Commission on Monday.
The commission started announcing the results from Saturday's election shortly before 7 a.m. (1:00 a.m. EDT) after a long delay prompted the opposition to accuse President Robert Mugabe of trying to rig the vote to stay in power.
The first six parliamentary constituencies were evenly split between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the commission.
Riot police appeared on the streets of Zimbabwe's capital overnight and the state-run Herald newspaper accused the MDC of "preparing its supporters to engage in violence by pre-empting results, claiming they had won."
Mugabe, 84, faced the biggest test of his 28-year-rule in the election because of Zimbabwe's economic collapse and a two-pronged opposition attack that put him under unprecedented political pressure.
He is being challenged by veteran rival Tsvangirai and former finance minister and ruling ZANU-PF party official Simba Makoni. Both accuse the former guerrilla leader of wrecking a once prosperous economy and reducing the population to misery.
Although the odds seem stacked against Mugabe, analysts believe his iron grip on the country and backing from the armed forces could enable him to declare victory.
The commission began issuing the results nearly 36 hours after polls closed. Results in past votes have started emerging soon afterwards.
Mugabe's government warned the opposition it would regard victory claims as a coup attempt. The president, in power since independence from Britain, accuses the West of sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy and rejects vote-rigging allegations.
Zimbabwe is suffering from the world's highest inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent, chronic shortages of food and fuel, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to a steep decline in life expectancy.
Electoral Commission chairman George Chiweshe said the delay was caused by the complexity of holding presidential, parliamentary and local polls together for the first time, and the need to verify results meticulously.
"Mugabe has lost the election. Everyone knows no one voted for Mugabe, but they are now trying to cook up a result in his favour," MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said on Sunday.
Two South African members of a regional observer mission said the delay in announcing the election results "underscores the fear that vote-rigging is taking place".
They refused to sign a positive preliminary report on the poll by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and said there was evidence of "widespread and convincing" MDC wins.
SADC mission chairman Jose Marcos Barrica of [former Portuguese colony] Angola told reporters through an interpreter the election had been a "peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people".
Barrica expressed concern about the voters roll, opposition access to the media and statements by the heads of security forces who had said they would not accept an opposition victory.
But he said: "We saw that the basic conditions for a free and fair election were there."
The dissenting SADC mission members, who belong to South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance, said in a statement: "It is impossible for this deeply flawed electoral process to be viewed as a credible expression of the will of the people."
The SADC, which critics say has been too soft on Mugabe, has unsuccessfully tried to mediate an end to Zimbabwe's crisis, which has turned a quarter of the population into refugees.
Zimbabwe's security forces, which have thrown their weight firmly behind Mugabe, said before the election they would not allow a victory declaration before counting was complete.
Government spokesman George Charamba warned the opposition against such claims. "It is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled," he told the state-owned Sunday Mail.
Residents in the eastern opposition stronghold of Manicaland said riot police stopped a victory demonstration by about 200 MDC supporters on Sunday. There was no violence, they said.
(Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Cris Chinaka, Nelson Banya and Muchena Zigomo)
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