International Papers

Poll Indisposition

Zimbabwe’s chaotic presidential vote may be a textbook example of how not to run an election. The government announced the location of polling stations just two days before the weekend’s vote and cut the number of stations in urban settings by a third, relocating them to rural areas where President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party enjoys most of its popularity.  According to  the Financial Times, many rural polling stations were “located close to camps housing the militia recruited in recent months as part of the government’s survival strategy.” So many electors were unable to cast their votes over the weekend that the high court ordered the government to open the polls for an unscheduled third day Monday. Nevertheless, South Africa’s Cape Argus reported that only a few polling stations in Harare and some of the capital’s suburbs were open; there was a five-hour delay in the start of Monday’s voting at many stations; and despite assurances that everyone in line would be allowed to vote, polls were closed without accommodating queues, and in some places police used teargas to disperse crowds of would-be voters.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph said, “Almost every rule of honest election management has been thrown out of the window during the government-inspired chaos of the presidential poll.” With few election observers on the ground, there were widespread reports of “systematic vote-rigging.” Among the alleged offenses: Polls were managed by army and police officers; independent observers were barred from accompanying ballot boxes from the polls to the count; the electoral register was never made public; attacks on representatives of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change left 52 percent of rural polling stations without an MDC agent present; at least two U.S. election observers were arrested and held for several hours over the weekend; government forces arrested hundreds of political opponents Monday; the government printed 1.5 million extra ballot papers (which, the Telegraph suggested, Mugabe might be using to inflate the vote count in ZANU-PF strongholds, where early turnout figures were anomalously high), and media bias. The South African Independent reported that a study of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. was “grossly biased” in support of President Mugabe. The report found that 84 percent of ZBC television’s election campaign stories between Dec. 1, 2001, and March 7, 2002, favored Mugabe; only 9 percent covered the MDC, and “virtually all of them” discredited the party and its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai. Britain’s Independent added that there were “no reports of political violence on radio or TV—the medium that the uneducated and poor, who are traditionally Zanu-PF supporters, rely on for news.”

Election results are expected Wednesday, and the election observers’ reports shortly afterward, but South Africa’s Sunday Times announced:

[E]ven before the polls close tonight, we believe we can accurately declare that the Zimbabwean election was not free and fair. … In our view, the campaign for the re-election of Mugabe began as far back as February 2000, when his government … sanctioned the violent invasion of commercial farms. While the reason for this was ostensibly to expedite the land-reform process, the sub-text was the creation of a climate of terror in the country. Operating under the cover of this lawlessness, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF fought a bloody parliamentary election campaign in 2000—a campaign that nonetheless failed to stem the tide of antipathy towards it.

South Africa’s Mail & Guardian declared that if Mugabe wins the election “the evidence of recent weeks suggests this will have been the result of violent intimidation, of massive procedural gerrymandering and of ballot fraud.” The editorial claimed that after 22 years in power, Mugabe and ZANU-PF had come to believe that “they rule by some sort of divine or historical right: that they have been entrusted by the supernatural or by destiny to guide Zimbabwe’s future. This underlying conviction—commonly held in former national liberation movements, including our own African National Congress—has severely retarded democracy and renewal in countries across Southern Africa.” The MDC does not share this “bizarre belief.” Zimbabwe’s independent Daily News drew a similar conclusion:

The Zimbabwean nationalist agenda has been hijacked and adulterated by vestiges of colonialism which the nationalists, quite ironically, fought so hard to eliminate and eradicate. … It has become self-evident that Zanu PF has failed dismally to transform itself from a mass nationalist/liberation movement into a ruling or governing party. … We should honour Zanu PF by giving it its rightful place—that is in the political archives and museums of this nation.