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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.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

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.

Thus, here is the latest on Zimbabwe:

has released its report on Zimbabwe's recent rigged election.

You can also read more about it at the Sokwanele blog.

America's response.

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....

In a statement last Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said flatly the election process was not free and fair, and urged the Mugabe government to "hear and respect" the voices of the many Zimbabweans who she said reject its failed policies and are calling for change.

She further urged Harare authorities to "recognize the legitimacy of the opposition" and abandon policies designed, she said, to "repress, crush and otherwise stifle expression of differences in Zimbabwe.

The United Kingdom's response.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw echoed those sentiments, expressing frustration that neighboring African countries had stamped the elections with their approval:

"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.

The Zimbabwean opposition has demanded a rerun of the elections. Police were deployed in Harare yesterday to prevent further protests against the poll.

A Major Hurdle.

Unfortunately, South African President Thabo Mbeki has made the work of Zimbabwe's pro-democracy opposition nearly impossible with his government's swift endorsement of Mugabe's victory:

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.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose observer mission was led by Mbeki's minerals minister, gave the poll high marks, although it voiced concerns over issues such as media access for the opposition. Pretoria's own monitoring team was unequivocal in its endorsement.

Crackdown on the press.

Meanwhile, The New Zealand Herald reports:

Two British journalists detained in Zimbabwe have pleaded not guilty to charges of reporting without permission....

State prosecutor Albert Masamha said the men were gathering information on the elections, which pitted President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)....

Under Zimbabwe's media laws foreign journalists are banned from working in the country permanently and must seek temporary licences with a state commission for brief assignments.

Zimbabwe has arrested or deported dozens of journalists and denied others entry under its media rules, which Mugabe's government introduced three years ago.

Jailed journalists Toby Harnden and Julian Simmonds:


John Reed of Financial Times describes a thoroughly surreal scene in the Mugabe camp:

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.

"Are you afraid?" he asked the startled group, quickly adding with a smile: "These two don't bite." Even before he spoke, Mr Mugabe's advisers, who have on occasion berated or even jailed foreign journalists, offered reporters an all-expenses junket to Victoria Falls.

A little "thank you" trip, perhaps? For being good journalists, unlike those no-good, meddling British ones.

Opposition not giving up yet.

The Washington Post reports that, despite threats to life and limb, glimmers of defiance remain in Zimbabwe:

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.


Evidence that Zimbabweans are beginning to follow "the blueprint," perhaps?

"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 opposition also faces a split decision from the international community. Countries from the Northern hemisphere support new elections under free and fair terms, while South Africa, the most influential country in the region, has already endorsed another term for Mugabe. The Guardian explains the quandary, criticizing:

...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 Scotsman reports that, while the Movement for Democratic Change has not officially organized any demonstrations, hundreds of opposition supporters expressed their displeasure with the Mugabe regime:

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.

Paul Themba Nyathi, an MDC spokesman, told The Scotsman that Monday’s demonstration had not been organised by the opposition, "but we do understand why the youths would demonstrate".

"It was a spontaneous demonstration by the youths who are disgruntled by the outcome of the elections," said Mr Nyathi, who lost his parliamentary seat in the south-western town of Gwanda to a little-known ruling party cadre.

Mr Nyathi said that up to 600 youths took part, adding: "It would not surprise me if we saw more of these demonstrations."

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.

"They are prepared to go," said Yvonne Bhosha. "They are still angry. They want to demonstrate. Some of the people said they are ready for the war."

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.

Indeed, Mugabe's police force,

...made a series of arrests in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, after people took to the streets to protest last week's election result.

Police remain on high alert in Harare after the protests, staged mainly by young people.

Ten were arrested, and police say all officers are armed and on full alert to maintain post election peace.

Mugabe himself promised violence if anyone protested the rigged election:

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.

According to the M.D.C., there are wide variances between some totals and the election results, particularly in rural districts where the vote was especially hard to monitor. For example, he said, the government reported at 2 a.m. April 1 that a total of 8,579 people had cast ballots in Murehwa South, a district in Mashonaland East Province.

But the announced results in that race showed that Mr. Mugabe's party had won 19,200 votes, compared with 4, 585 for the M.D.C. - more than 15,000 more ballots that the total vote reported earlier.

Mr. Littleton said the report would list similar discrepancies in other election races, as well as many instances in which the number of voters turned away from the polls on technical grounds exceeded the government's margin of victory.

The M.D.C. asserted earlier that its election monitors would be able to detect and avert cases of fraud. But Mr. Littleton said Tuesday that the party's monitors had either been denied access to polls or barred from observing crucial parts of the vote-counting or reporting procedures.

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