Stakes are high as Zim heads into tight election battle
CRISIS-WEARY Zimbabweans head to the polls tomorrow, in an already contentious election that could see President Robert Mugabe extend his 33-year grip on power.
More than six million Zimbabweans are eligible to cast their ballots in this, the first round of a presidential vote as well as parliamentary and council polls.
Election day will crown a campaign already marred by allegations that Mugabe has taken steps to rig what is likely his last election.
The 89-year-old – who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 – has expressed an iron determination to win this “do-or-die” campaign, despite persistent rumours of failing health.
“It’s a fight for our lives. It’s a battle for survival,” he told 20 000 supporters as he kicked off his campaign earlier this month.
Mugabe’s opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused the veteran leader of manipulating the voters’ roll in “a desperate attempt to subvert the people’s will”.
This will be the 61-year-old’s third attempt to unseat Mugabe, after a series of flawed and violent elections. In 2008 Tsvangirai won the first round of voting, but pulled out of the race after some 200 of his supporters were killed.
This time round, either man will still need 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit, a non-governmental group, in June the electoral roll still contained the names of one million dead or departed voters.
A new round of registration has since taken place, but like so many other democratic reforms planned in the wake of the 2008 poll, implementation has been patchy. Mugabe and Tsvangirai were conscripted into a unity government in the aftermath of the last election by outside powers keen to put an end to years of political and economic turmoil.
The arranged marriage resulted in a new constitution, but many promised reforms have failed to materialise.
The army, police and electoral bodies remain under Mugabe’s control and closely allied to him.
Early voting for the police and military was chaotic, with thousands unable to cast their vote because ballot papers were not printed in time.
“Judging by the chaos that we witnessed during the special voting exercise, the country is headed for another sham election whose outcome will not reflect the will of the people,” said Phillip Pasirayi, a Harare-based political analyst.
Western poll observers and some journalists have not been granted permission to cover the elections. But African observers have so far been upbeat about the elections.
“We think they will be able to manage,” said African Union commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
While Washington has warned it may ramp up sanctions if the vote is not fair, among the international community there appears to be little appetite to return to sanctions.
The European Union has said it will defer to Zimbabwe’s neighbours, particularly the 15member SADC bloc, which will deploy 442 observers to cover 210 constituencies.
For all the talk about this being Mugabe’s last election, analysts note this may also be Tsvangirai’s last roll of the dice.
He has lead the MDC since 1999. “Tsvangirai will get a protest vote from those who want change and a sympathy vote from those who feel for him, for the attacks he has suffered,” said Shakespeare Hamauswa, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe. – Sapa-AFP