March 17, 2005


For Zimbabwe, Peaceful Vote, but Is It Fair? (MICHAEL WINES and SHARON LaFRANIERE, 3/18/05, NY Times)

[T]here is a vast difference between an obviously peaceful election and a fair one. And with two weeks left to a potentially defining moment for Mr. Mugabe, there is mounting evidence that the raucous campaigning masks an expansive effort by his party to rig the outcome.

Both independent analysts and members of Mr. Tsvangarai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, or M.D.C., cite growing barriers to a fair ballot. They say that polling places are scarce in opposition strongholds; that two in five enrolled voters are suspect; that Zimbabwe's vast, mostly anti-Mugabe diaspora is barred from voting; that the 8,500 election observers are limited to those, like Russians and close African allies, who are likely to rubber-stamp a government victory. Most Westerners are excluded from witnessing the vote.

Foreign journalists are effectively banned from Zimbabwe under threat of arrest (though many enter the country as tourists). Government-run media are heavily biased; broadcast interviews with opposition figures mysteriously drown in static. There is a dearth of independent judges to rule on election complaints. Election oversight is split among a bevy of commissions largely staffed with Mr. Mugabe's cronies.

Most important, perhaps, the government controls the biggest incentive to undecided voters: the distribution of almost all emergency food in a nation where, agricultural experts say, 4 people in 10 are unsure where to find their next meal.

Given such advantages, "they probably believe they have won the election and that creating freer conditions on the immediate eve of the election will not hurt," said Reginald Matchaba-Hove, chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a coalition of pro-democracy groups. "The assumption on Mugabe's side is that he will get a two-thirds majority in the parliament anyway."

Funny things have a way of happening when dictators count on the lassitude of their victims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2005 9:59 PM
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