|Controversial Zimbabwean Election
Campaign Ends: Voters' Turn Next
Harare, 23 June 2000
The politicians and the pundits have had their say. The last star rallies by the indefatigable 76-year-old Robert Mugabe wrapped up late today in the dusty fields of Chibuku Stadium in the working class city of Chitungwiza on the outskirts of Harare with the now-familiar cry that Zimbabwe will never be recolonized by the north and that the revolution which brought the country independence in 1980 is not over. Only when the land is ours, he roared to the crowd of about 10,000 who were generally reserved, as if to say the campaign has gone on long enough.
It has been a long six weeks since Mugabe dissolved Parliament on April 11 and announced that June 24 and 25 would be the dates for 5.1 million registered voters to elect 120 members to the 150-seat Parliament. It has been a complex campaign, undoubtedly the most critical election since Independence in 1980, and certainly the most chaotic.
The issue of land, on the countrys agenda since the liberation war was fought to return the land to the people dispossessed of it for more than a century, was at the forefront. But the invasions of some 1,500 commercial farms, largely owned by whites, by liberation war veterans and their youthful allies, injected the scourge of violence which ended with some 30 deaths and a sense of lawlessness across the land which was only dampened in the last week or so of the campaign.
Compounding the confusion was the surge of support for the 10-month-old Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which is contesting every constituency in the country against the only ruling party the country has ever known - the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF.
Led by a dynamic labour leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, 48, and a group of academics, lawyers and civil society leaders, the MDC capitalized on Zimbabwes faltering economy, shortages of foreign exchange, unemployment, soaring inflation, petrol and electricity shortages, an unpopular war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and urban demands for change to make this fifth election the most competitive and bitter in the countrys history.
Fifteen parties are contesting the 120 seats but only ZANU-PF and MDC really count. Mugabe, although campaigning with a stamina that belies his 76 years, has two years left in his presidential term so he will be in the capitals State House regardless of the outcome. Under the existing Constitution, he has the right to appoint 30 legislators and it is this prerogative that may be certain to keep ZANU-PF in control of Parliament.
The pundits give most urban seats in Bulawayo and Harare especially, to the MDC, but ZANU-PF has held the rural areas in an iron grip in every election. However, it is the rural areas, along with the overcrowded townships, which have born the brunt of the violence and intimidation that have characterized this election and raised questions about the rural vote staying with ZANU-PF. Predictions of the outcome are virtually impossible since a silent rural population is giving little indication of which way they will vote - or indeed if they will vote at all.
The electoral process itself is another issue. Described by some international observers as being in a state of virtual chaos, the system of administering the more than 4,100 polling stations, counting the votes and maintaining security and secrecy is in the hands of a controversial self-admitted member of ZANU-PF, Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede whose office has been the object of accusations of partisanship and incompetence from the opposition.
There have been a number of court cases against his decisions, some of which he has won, others lost and still others pending. Unlike most SADC nations, Zimbabwe does not have an Independent Electoral Commission and electoral functions are divided among three agencies, dominated by Mudedes office. The opposition and its supporters are already, well before the polls open, predicting massive vote-rigging.
There will, however, be some close scrutiny of the process by some 302 international observers, the largest number coming from the European Union (EU) with 150, followed by the Commonwealth with 40, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) 28 and the two Southern African Development Community (SADC) forums with 29. A number of foreign countries - but not including Mugabes old enemy Britain or the U.S -- have small missions. Zimbabwe itself has 4,000 accredited monitors and some 16,000 unofficial observers. The Zimbabwe Republic Police have deployed some 30,000 officers across the country to keep order and guard ballot boxes but opposition spokespersons say the force is too politicized to guarantee security of persons or ballot boxes.
The international media, which has been covering Zimbabwe like a tent since the farm invasions began in early March after the defeat of a government-backed Constitutional Referendum, has 267 foreign media organizations in the country represented by 702 accredited journalists. Mugabe claims, with some justification, that the foreign media, especially from Britain and the U.S. have given Zimbabwe such a negative image that its economic climate has suffered severely.
The polls open tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday at 7 a.m. and close each day at 7 p.m. Results are expected sometime on Monday.
While Tsvangirai wrapped up his major campaigning last Saturday in Harare with a huge rally, his own seat in Buhera North in central Zimbabwe is less certain and observers see him facing a tough battle. MDC candidates claim that due to the violence, they have been unable to campaign effectively.
Mugabe has scored considerable points with his allegations of MDCs wide support among Zimbabwes 70,000 whites, as well as ties to former Rhodesians living in South Africa and Australia. Most Zimbabwean whites are in the upper economic strata, controlling most of the countrys 11.2 million ha of arable farmland (an average of 2,000 ha each for the 4,000 large-scale commercial farmers) and much of the manufacturing sector.
Until this election, despite Mugabes offer of reconciliation in 1980, most whites remained disengaged from political and social activity until this time round when they have openly and financially backed MDC and Mugabe never misses a chance to play this racial card.
We will never return to being Rhodesia, we will never be recolonized by the British, we will never end the revolution until the land is in black hands and the whites recognize who is in charge in this country, he told his first rally today at Chinhoyi, close to where the armed liberation struggle began in 1966.
The president is widely recognized as a wily and effective politician. At 76 he maintains a schedule that leaves most of the rest of his ministers far behind. He has addressed an average of two star rallies in each of the countrys 10 provinces as well as countless meetings, radio and television interviews and several trips outside Zimbabwe.
In three days the results will be in and some of the pundits, predicting victories for both parties, will have to eat their words. Whatever the outcome, the country will never be quite the same. As in 1980 when Robert Mugabe was elected overwhelmingly against the expectations of the former rulers and colonizers, so 20 years later, the voters will have the final say (SARDC).
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