Polls have closed and votes are being counted in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, in which President Robert Mugabe is battling Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Complaints of voting irregularities began soon after the polls opened, including tampering with the voter roll, threatening opposition supporters and arresting activists.
This is Tsvangirai’s third attempt the defeat Mugabe. They are the main contestants in the five-candidate race. Mugabe is 89 and Tsvangirai is 61.
After a 2008 election in which there were accusations of fraud as well as the deaths of 200 of Tsvangirai’s supporters, a power sharing deal was worked out between Mugabe and Tsvangirai in 2009.
Back in 1965, Zimbabwe was called Rhodesia and controlled by Caucasians. Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith’s campaign slogan was “a whiter, brighter Rhodesia.” Whites controlled the country but their population was diminishing. In 1980 there were 150,000 whites and 7 million black citizens. In 1979 “liberation” forces invaded from neighboring Mozambique and Zambia and the government soldiers could only kill so many.
Peace was negotiated, and an election was held in 1980. Mugabe had returned from exile to participate. His party, the “Patriotic Front” (Zanu-PF) used techniques of intimidation and violence—but the other parties were using them too. Mugabe became the first prime minister of the newly christened county of Zimbabwe.
There are two main ethnic groups in Zimbabwe, the Shona and the Ndebele. Mugabe is a Shona. He had a group of soldiers known as the Five Brigade trained in North Korea. He used his Five Brigade to massacre an estimated 20,000 Ndebele.
Mugabe described the 2002 elections as “total war.” Mugabe was running against Tsvangirai then too. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), headed by Tsvangirai, had begun in 1999. Prior to the election, youth squads were recruited to hunt down supporters of the MDC. They were abducted, tortured and killed.
Mugabe used subtler methods as well. He had election rules changed so that voters in the urban areas, favorable to Tsvangirai, had difficulty registering. Laws of citizenship were changed to deprive thousands of the right to vote. The number of polling stations was reduced by half to increase the obstacles to voting. The names of new Zanu-PF members were surreptitiously added to the rolls after the deadline for voter registration had passed. Government-controlled radio, television and newspapers released streams of propaganda to discredit Tsvangirai. Mugabe made criticizing the president a capital offense, and banned political rallies. The commander of the Zimbabwean defense force declared that the military would not recognize the result of the election if Mugabe lost.
Many other forms of fraud and malpractice assured Mugabe’s victory.
Mugabe has maintained a tyrannical policy of intimidation, devastation and murder for over thirty years.
In 2005 the DNC won several parliamentary seats. Mugabe initiated Operation Murambatsvina, which resulted in 700,000 people losing their livelihood and more than 2 million becoming further impoverished.
Finally in 2008, when Mugabe’s Zanu-PF lost to the Tsvangirai’s MDC in the first round of elections, Zanu-PF called for a runoff election. Meanwhile the Zanu-PF killed hundreds and injured thousands. Hundreds of women and girls were raped.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s economy was collapsing. Inflation rates rose to 79.6 billion percent, the highest the world had seen since Hungary in 1946. In order to stave off more bloodletting and economic collapse, Tsvangirai withdrew from the race.
Despite the power-sharing agreement between the two opponents, Zanu-PF youth gangs were moving among densely-populated market centers in advance of the most recent election. Zanu-PF officials were on international television declaring that they would not support a Tsvangirai victory.
Mugabe told journalists before the election that he was confident of victory, but would not accept another power-sharing arrangement such as currently exists between Zanu-PF and the MDC.
He also declared that he respects democracy and the “rule of law” and would accede to a defeat in the polls.
But Mugabe has yet to tolerate a loss in over thirty years of ruling Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe will be fortunate if voting fraud is the furthest that Mugabe will go to win the election.
(See “Breaking the Silence,” National Geographic, May 2013; and Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence.)
By: Tom Ukinski
Source: Voice of America