As the drama of Zimbabwe’s landmark March 29 election unfolds, Dianne Kohler Banard, Member of Parliament and spokesperson of the Democratic Alliance (DA) of South Africa stated that it was impossible for Mugabe’s ZANUpf to win elections in a country that was very angry with his failed economic policies.
by Rejoice Ngwenya
In plain words, Ms Kohler Barnard said Mugabe had rigged the outcome of the elections in his favour.
This bold statement not only flies directly in the face of the head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Election Observer Team, but also adds to the chorus of protests from most Civic Sector Organisations who already have condemned the just ended election as another expensive way of dignifying outgoing president (or incoming?) Robert Mugabe’s illegitimate hold onto power.
On his part, the ageing dictator had so far played his deception role with amazing skill, hoodwinking both SADC and the gullible Thabo Mbeki into believing the election process was within the SADC norms, but the DA and the African Parliamentary Union observers have refused to be convinced.
During his campaign, Mugabe claimed over and over again that South Africa, Australia and England are beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s high quality education system by virtue of ‘stealing’ teachers, doctors, nurses and engineers from his country. Zimbabwe, he bellowed, boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. And yet as you read this piece, Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) officers are ‘failing’ to count votes from a mere two hundred and ten constituencies and eight thousand polling stations, figures that were already public information by March 30!
I have always maintained that Zimbabwe’s electoral system is so discredited that no amount of demagoguery by SADC Election Observer Team can sanctify the predictable outcome. However, for presidential hopeful Morgan Tsvangirayi of MDC, he was his own enemy. Mugabe was aware all along that given Zimbabwe’s disabled economy, popular resentment was mounting against him, despite exhausting all the leaves in his national cheque books to buy votes, but in Tsvangirayi’s self-centred intransigence, he knew he would have the last laugh.
Tsvangirayi shoots himself in the foot
Firstly, Tsvangirayi complained all the way to Pretoria that unless the field was evened, he would pull his ‘troops’ off the electoral battle front, but Mugabe insisted that nothing would change until after the elections. This meant that loyal MDC supporters stayed away from re-registering as voters until the last minute when it was clear that Tsvangirayi would succumb to Mugabe’s threats.
Secondly, out of the blue, Tsvangirayi was handed victory on a silver plate when Mugabe’s key man, Dr Simba Makoni, joined opposition ranks by offering to combine forces with MDC, but Dr Makoni drew a blank and was, for good measure, publicly ridiculed by Tsvangirayi as an ‘undesirable and dangerous ZANUpf turncoat’ .
At the same time, Professor Arthur Mutambara’s of another MDC faction overtures for collaboration were also given the hot iron treatment by Tsvangirayi, and thus the two ‘rejects’ went away with their critical voting blocs. What therefore happens on voting day is that every citizen who would have voted for a united opposition split the vote between Tsvangirayi and Dr Simba Makoni, thus giving Mugabe a vital competitive advantage that his co-conspirators are now exploiting to alter the election outcome at the National Command Centre.
Out of the five million so-called registered voters, an average of thirty-five percent turned out to polling stations, even in urban centres where MDC traditionally holds sway. Tsvangirayi’s urban supporters abstained mainly because they were complacent and read too much into the large crowds he was attracting at rallies. Moreover, his political message was withered, because he devoted most of his valuable time in deriding Dr Makoni and Professor Mutambara instead of amplifying his fundamental difference from Mugabe’s ZANUpf.
Tsvangirayi’s MDC was also embroiled in bitter in-fighting that saw the ‘expulsion’ of party leaders in the Midlands region, while he himself was accused of fanning division in the party’s women wing by bulldozing into the women’s council Theresa Makone – his advisor’s wife – over Lucia Matibenga, a longtime confidante and former trade union colleague. When it came to selecting candidates, accusations of favouritism, nepotism and infidelity flew from all directions at Tsvangirayi.
In the 2005 election, Mugabe constricted urban voting by placing few polling stations to wear out opposition supporters, but this time, he flooded cities with polling places so that even by mid-day, everyone who mattered had cast their votes.
In fact, at some polling centres like Alexandra Primary School in Harare’s posh Belgravia suburb, there were more polling officers than voters! To make matters worse, most polling stations each turned away an average of one hundred voters nationally for many reasons, one of which was their names, although appearing elsewhere in the Voters Roll, were not at that particular voting centre.
Mugabe’s Delimitation Commission had swapped and altered constituency boundaries to confuse people, but while ZANUpf was busy educating its faithful about this ‘anomaly’, Tsvangirayi concentrated on regional politicking.
Mugabe digging his own grave ?
Since the new electoral law demands that a presidential candidate win by a clear fifty one percent margin to avoid a deadly run off, Mugabe’s rigging system is on full alert to employ sophisticated mathematical engineering to avoid this hurdle. He tried to sneak ballot papers into the system – including postal votes, ghost polling stations and military votes – but Tsvangirayi’s election agents and independent observers picked the anomaly.
However, Mugabe’s desperation to stay in power has overwhelmed him so much that he has asked the ZEC not to announce all the results in one day. This is strategic in that he can figure out which polling centres were under represented by opposition observers then change figures at least to sneak past the critical fifty two percent mark without being noticed.
So far, MDC election spokesperson, lawyer Tendai Biti has announced that Tsvangirayi is the winner, but Mugabe’s cronies have threatened to arrest anyone who they claim violates ZEC’s sole responsibility to announce results. Indications are that MDC will sweep most urban centres, but will struggle to assert their presence in ZANUpf’s rural traditional strongholds. Amidst the abject poverty, famine and disease, only time will tell whether Mugabe’s tractors, ploughs and buses convinced villagers that ZANUpf is still the great provider.