Sunday, 29 June 2008

Zimbabwe: The election that never was

Africa Confidential’s special correspondent reports from Harare as President Robert Mugabe declares victory

Voting was unenthusiastic and turnout low in yesterday's presidential poll, despite Saturday’s bombastic headline in the state-owned Herald claiming one the highest turnouts ever (supporting evidence not supplied). Nevertheless, with Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing and still holed up in the Dutch embassy, Mugabe will romp to victory.

With what stamp of legitimacy and with what mandate is anyone's guess. There has been no enunciation of post-election policy by ZANU-PF beyond its usual promises of 'total' sovereignty and 'total' independence.

But totalities of an economic nature might finally be the straw that breaks the Old Man's back. One Harare-based economist estimated inflation to be 9,000,000 per cent. Many of the black market traders – and an increasing amount of official business – is being conducted in US dollars. How much longer can the Zimbabwe dollar be used as patronage to boost the salaries of the state-security services?

Voting stations seem to have been planted in areas in the capital where government though they could pick up the most votes. AC spotted at 11 polling booths within a square mile of the Mbare township – but only two in the fiercely anti-Mugabe Highfields neighbourhood nearby. The pattern was repeated in Rugare and Burdiriro. One SADC observer in Rugare, standing idly next to his Toyota 4x4, said turnout had been in the dozens.

Crucially, poll-watchdog the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) had no observers whatsoever. They had over 8000 on March 29 and their involvement was crucial in ensuring transparency at the country's 9,000 plus polling stations. In a statement the ZESN said justice minister Patrick Chinamasa would only accredit 500 observers in the second-round, so as not 'to disrupt the smooth running [sic] of the electoral process'.

There have been reports of ZANU-PF supporters beating people without the requisite purple ink stained finger – the sign of voting. But they needn't have bothered. All the intimidation was done in the election run-up. Despite the 200 Mashonaland refugees camped out on the South African embassy's front lawn, most of Harareans spent yesterday's declared public holiday relaxing in the winter sun, drinking chibuku in local shebeens or braai-ing black market sirloin steaks with friends.

The US and the EU made the expected noises – with Condoleezza Rice promising action at the Security Council next week. In a rare sign of government condemnation, the United Nations local representative was reported to have threatened to withdraw UN representation from Zimbabwe if government didn't stop targeting humanitarian workers.

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