Zimbabwe heads for tight election battle
29 July 2013, 09:42
Harare - Crisis-weary Zimbabweans head to the polls on Wednesday,
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 the first round of a presidential vote as well as parliamentary and
Election day will crown a campaign already marred by
allegations that Mugabe has taken steps to rig what is likely his last
'Do or die' campaign
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
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.
The spectre of manipulation and the paucity of reliable
opinion polls mean the outcome is far from certain.
In a rare opinion poll from July last year, Afrobarometer
reported a statistical dead heat between the two main parties.
But a quarter of respondents refused to reveal their
preference because of what pollsters dubbed the "margin of terror".
There have been long-running concerns about the state of the
electoral roll, which critics say is riddled with "ghost voters" who
have a tendency to vote for Mugabe's and his allies.
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.
In the run-up to the vote Tsvangirai's political allies,
independent lawyers, NGOs and the media have suffered regular intimidation.
Early voting for the police and military was chaotic, with
thousands unable to cast their vote because ballot papers were not printed in
"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, including AFP's
non-Zimbabwean reporters, have been not been granted permission to cover the
But African observers have so far been upbeat about the
"We think they will be able to manage," said
African Union commission chairperson 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 challenge that account or return to sanctions.
The European Union has said it will defer to Zimbabwe's
southern African neighbours, particularly the 15-member SADC bloc, which will
deploy 442 observers to cover 210 constituencies.
Mugabe has deftly spun western sanctions as a neo-colonial
plot that caused the economic nightmare which subsumed the country over the
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 Movement for Democratic Change since 1999.
"Tsvangirai will get a protest vote from those who want
change and a sympathy vote from those who feel for him, for him for the attacks
he has suffered," said Shakespeare Hamauswa, a political scientist at the
University of Zimbabwe.
"But this could be his last chance. The people of
Zimbabwe will lose their patience and call for a renewal of the MDC's
Tsvangirai is hoping his plan to lure back foreign
investors, create a million jobs in five years and improve public services will
deliver a long awaited victory.
But his own success may cost him. Although the economy
remains feeble, the MDC finance minister's 2009 decision to adopt the US dollar
put an end to hyperinflation.
The economic situation today is less crisis-riven than it
was when Zimbabweans voted in 2008.
That has given Mugabe breathing space to focus his campaign
on bashing homosexuals and doubling down on promises to redistribute wealth to
poor black Zimbabweans.
It may yet again prove a successful gambit.