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More On Zimbabwe's Rigged Election.
Our source inside Zimbabwe emails to tell us that Zimbabwe's opposition was "shell-shocked" and is now "trying to re-group," following its stunning defeat last week at the hands of Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF political party, a defeat which now gives Mugabe the power to change Zimbabwe's already fragile constitution.
It is easy to understand how Zimbabwe's opposition could have found itself so paralyzed immediately after such a terrible outcome.
A fraudulent election.
Rubber stamped by regional leaders.
Extremely limited options for redress.
After a few days of relative inaction on the part of the opposition, whatever comes next may just be too little, too late-- this year, at least.
The Movement for Democratic Change and Civic Action groups like Sokwanele have a very real chance to lay the long-term groundwork for a free and democratic Zimbabwe. Building those requisite institutions must be a priority for Zimbabwe's opposition over the next few years.
Yet, we feel we have a duty to freedom-loving people around the world, and the Zimbabweans in particular, to keep the faith. Why should Zimbabweans have to wait years (or, perhaps, generations) for democracy when many today are willing to stand up for their own liberty?
As President Bush noted in his Second Inaugural address,
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
The options of freedom-loving people are limited in this case; however, where and when we see people asserting their liberty against unimaginable tyranny, we will speak out on their behalf.
You can also read more about it at the Sokwanele blog.
The United States, through State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, called the elections "seriously tainted":
"I think we have seen the problems with this election mount after the voting,” said Mr. Boucher. “While we noted the voting itself was orderly, the buildup to the election was tainted by restrictions on the media and the highly charged atmosphere against the opposition. And unfortunately as they got to the vote counting, they seem to have distorted the process further....
"There is strong evidence they do not reflect the free democratic will of the Zimbabwe people... the election process was seriously flawed," he told MPs.
In the runup to last Thursday's elections, Mbeki dismissed widely expressed fears that Mugabe would rig the vote as he was accused of doing in 2000 and 2002.
Two British journalists detained in Zimbabwe have pleaded not guilty to charges of reporting without permission....
Jailed journalists Toby Harnden and Julian Simmonds:
Robert Mugabe was in a playful mood by the time he commented on his party's crushing victory in last week's parliamentary election. Southern Africa's longest-serving leader summoned journalists to the veranda of Harare's State House on Saturday, where he spoke, flanked by two snarling stuffed lions.
A little "thank you" trip, perhaps? For being good journalists, unlike those no-good, meddling British ones.
Even in the countryside -- where support for Mugabe is supposedly strongest and where official vote totals showed his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, with huge margins of victory -- voters on election day flashed the opposition's signature open-palm gesture. A group of peasant women walking down a dirt road with sugar cane in their hands did not want to talk to a stranger, but when pressed gently about the election, they silently showed their open palms.
"The blueprint" for success requires many things, some of which do not seem readily apparent in Zimbabwe.
For one, the opposition draws much of its support from young, frustrated males in urban areas; thus far there are no protest babes to be found.
However, the Zimbabwean opposition does have an opportunity for branding its movement effectively, through symbols. The open-palm gesture, such as the one pictured above, could embody the movement. Unfortunately, though, marketing the movement to an international audience might be more difficult while news from Rome dominates international headlines.
Our Zimbabwean opposition source, who wishes to remain unattributed, emails:
The foreign media has drifted away and the world's interest has shifted. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, this is usually the period when we need attention more than any other time - when reprisals start to take place, intimidation escalates again, and, evidence of rigging emerges.
...the complicity of other African governments who failed to see the issue other than in terms of land redistribution and the black versus white struggle trumpeted by the president and his cronies. They preferred to fixate on Tony Blair - blaming him for the row with the Commonwealth and the sanctions imposed by the EU - rather than address why a country that was so promising on independence in 1980 has seen such a sharp decline into poverty, hunger, mass unemployment and an HIV/aids crisis of tragic proportions.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) draws much of its support from young Zimbabweans, who bear the brunt of 70 per cent unemployment rates and have lost faith in Mr Mugabe. But the same youths are also believed to be growing increasingly impatient with dallying from the MDC leadership, which has not yet announced what it plans to do in response to Mr Mugabe’s victory.
That's about as close as the MDC has been willing to come to actually advocating demonstrations. Reporter Nicole Itano explains:
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has hesitated to call for mass action, fearing a violent government crackdown and an unwillingness by his supporters to risk injury or death. People here, however, say they are willing to go to the streets and are simply waiting for a call they expect soon.
The primary obstacle to replicating a scene from Ukraine's Orange Revolution is that Zimbabweans fear for their very safety if and when they speak out. The Mugabe regime is so authoritarian that Freedom House has said Zimbabweans likely "cannot change their government democratically." If Morgan Tsvangirai urged his supporters to take to the streets, lives would almost certainly be lost; meanwhile, the MDC and other just-emerging opposition groups in Zimbabwe would likely face the harsh wrath of the Mugabe regime, possibly setting them back years.
It must weigh heavily on Tsvangirai and other opposition leadership to bear that kind of responsibility. Any action, or lack of action, would cause mostly negative consequences.
Very few options even exist that could create positive consequences at this point. The odds of a Ukraine-style mass movement in 2005 are exceedingly slim.
...made a series of arrests in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, after people took to the streets to protest last week's election result.
Mugabe dismissed charges of cheating as "excuses" that were not "sporting." He warned that any attempt by the opposition to protest the results would be met with "conflict, serious conflict." He said the government had "two or three weapons" it might deploy to calm unrest in a nation where demonstrations are illegal unless the police have granted prior, written permission.
The New York Times explains that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is preparing its own report on the rampant election fraud:
A South African spokesman for the M.D.C., James Littleton, said Tuesday that the party would release a report Wednesday detailing what it says is evidence of election fraud. A part of that report, he said, compares the outcome in selected races with the final vote totals the government's election commission announced in the early hours of April 1, long after the polls had closed.
We're rooting for the good guys, but we're also very skeptical that anything short of Mugabe's death (he is 81, and says he plans to live to 100), coupled with the painstaking process of developing a disciplined democratic movement, could offer the necessary moment of opportunity for the pro-freedom forces.
In the meantime, we stand with the democratic reformers.
More on Mugabe's Bloody Past.
Posted by Will Franklin · 6 April 2005 01:22 AM