March 20, 2005


Zimbabwe election ‘already decided’: As Zimbabwe prepares for an election, Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg asks if anybody but Mugabe can possibly win (Fred Bridgland, 3/20/05, Sunday Herald)

With just 11 days to go before Zimbabweans go to the polls in their sixth parliamentary general election, the outcome has already been decided.

President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, which has been in power for a quarter of a century, will win by a large margin. It will not reflect the people’s choice: if that were honoured, Mugabe’s party would be toppled from power after March 31.

But the ballot has been comprehensively rigged in advance by a wide range of strategies.

The critical consideration for Mugabe, an embittered, ruthless and clever man, is to decide how many seats the opposition will be allowed to win. He will then proclaim to the world that Zimbabwe is a functioning democracy, although it is in truth a military dictatorship, closely resembling Romania under the late Nicolae Ceausescu. Just as Ceausescu could have been a hero but instead went down the killing and robbing road, so Mugabe has followed the same route, ruining his country, poisoned by belief in his own infallibility and misplaced pride, the age-old companion to despots.

A soberly forensic dissection by one of the world’s biggest human rights advocacy organisations, Human Rights Watch (HRW), of Mugabe’s emasculation of the democratic process will be released in Johannesburg tomorrow, dismissing in detail any possibility that the Zimbabwe election can be free or fair.

The report, entitled Not A Level Playing Field and compiled by an HRW team that has spent several weeks undercover in Zimbabwe, concludes: “With only days remaining before voters go to the polls, it is clear that the [Zimbabwe] government has not adequately met the benchmarks set by the SADC [Southern African Development Community] principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.”

Those guidelines were set last August at a crisis meeting of the SADC, southern Africa’s most important regional grouping. The principles laid down included full participation of citizens in the political process; freedom of association; political tolerance; equal opportunity for all parties to state media access; independence of the judiciary; independence of the media; impartiality of electoral institutions; and voter education.

Mugabe and Zanu-PF fail to meet any of those principles.

Does Mugabe imagine himself subtle?

Africa Is Changing, But Not Zimbabwe (Peter Godwin, 3/28/05, Newsweek International)

A month or so ago I found myself at a dinner in a New York loft with Lovemore Madhuku, a Zimbabwean pro-democracy activist (and head of the National Constitutional Assembly), who was here to collect the prestigious Northcote Parkinson Civil Courage Prize "for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk." He and I share a common background. Both Zimbabweans, one black and one white, we grew up in the eastern highlands there, on the border with Mozambique. Both of us went to Cambridge University in England to study law.

Madhuku is a slight, straight-backed man in his mid-30s, softly spoken and self-effacing. He sat silently, smiling, while various guests debated the conduct of the recent U.S. elections. One guest, annoyed at having recently been stopped by police for bicycling the wrong way around Washington Square Park, lamented that America was becoming a police state. "Have you ever been arrested?" our hostess asked Madhuku, trying to coax him into the conversation. He cocked his head and thought for a moment. "Eleven—no, 12 times." Several resulted in torture. After the last one he was so badly beaten by pro-government thugs that he was left in the bush for dead. The table fell silent.

Madhuku is no firebrand. He is a law professor at the University of Zimbabwe who happens to believe in the transforming benefits of representative government. But as such he's considered a mortal threat to the 25-year regime of Zimbabwe's aged president, Robert Mugabe. Next week Zimbabwe goes to the polls. But if it were up to Madhuku, democratic agitator that he is, the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, would boycott the ballot, so grotesquely skewed is the electoral playing field. Zimbabwe enjoys almost none of the freedoms necessary for meaningful elections; it doesn't have freedom of the press, of assembly, of movement.

Madhuku is the only man ever to have beaten Mugabe at the polls. It was a 2000 referendum to increase presidential term limits—and Mugabe, free from opposition for years, was caught off guard when the country voted against him, at the urging of the National Constitutional Assembly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 20, 2005 8:28 PM

I heard King Country election officials met with their Zimbabwian counterparts to exchage ideas and experiences.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 20, 2005 10:14 PM

John Edwards has volunteered to go to Zimbabwe, believing, as he does, that "every vote counts", to ensure that "every vote is counted".

Posted by: Dave W. at March 21, 2005 12:12 AM

"One guest, annoyed at having recently been stopped by police for bicycling the wrong way around Washington Square Park, lamented that America was becoming a police state"

Here we go again with the bicycle paths. I tell you this is an issue that will bring down the Republic, if Howard Dean & Co. get riled up. Unfortunatly Republicans have been diverted into trivia like Social Security Reform, while the wrath of liberals will be focussed on bicycle paths.

Posted by: h-man at March 21, 2005 6:06 AM

If Howard Dean wanted to improve his standing with middle America, he should run down Mugabe on his bicycle. And then back up and do it again.

Posted by: ratbert at March 21, 2005 3:43 PM