NATIONAL: (By Yasir Habib Khan)– Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe another win, allegedly rigged, is unlikely to usher in a better political and economic outlook for Zimbabweans.
For a man notorious for his violent temperament and intolerance for opposition, President Robert Mugabe’s self-portrayal as a democrat almost succeeded in projecting his opponent’s tantrums as the infantile actions of a sore loser.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main MDC faction, came out as a perennial whiner who was only prepared to accept a favourable outcome.
This was Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF’s tactic, in an attempt to avoid two crucial mistakes they committed in the 2008 elections – violence and complacency.
For someone who used to gloat that he has a degree in violence, Mugabe toned down his war talk during this year’s election campaign, reserving his vicious temper for former UK prime minister Tony Blair and South African facilitator Lindiwe Zulu.
Mugabe’s strategy seems to have deceived some observers – who declared the elections free and fair – and the majority of the populace who voted for him (the presidential results were yet to be released at the time of going to press).
The absence of violence and Mugabe’s good behaviour created a dilemma for the opposition parties, which were forced into the rushed polls without proper preparations. Zanu-PF pulled off a massive and good campaign.
The dilemma of Tsvangirai and of other presidential hopefuls such as the smaller MDC’s Welshman Ncube and Zapu’s Dumiso Dabengwa was that had they pulled out, their supporters and the international community would have punished them. They are equally damned for legitimising what Tsvangirai has now described as “a sham” and “farce”.
The opposition could hardly claim that the climate was not conducive for elections as violence has almost evaporated from the streets.
Mugabe’s spies, who used to camp in the hotel lobbies, have been confined to the Central Intelligence Organisation’s offices.
The blue-helmeted riot police who terrorised Harare at every previous election disappeared until a day after the polls, when a few could be seen outside MDC-T headquarters. The war veterans were conspicuously quiet, other than militant words from a few.
The Centre for Community Development of Zimbabwe, an NGO, also admitted that although there were pockets of intimidation such as forcing people to attend meetings, there was no “naked violence”.
The intimidating tactics included what appeared to be one-sided enforcement of the electoral code. Police spokesperson Charity Charamba confirmed the arrest of only MDC officials for using “abusive language” and for being in possession of electoral materials.
Cab driver Tafadzwa Chinembiri, 49, a staunch Zanu-PF supporter, says they were warned by their leaders not to raise their hands against opponents “even if provoked”.
He points to the posters in downtown Harare – with Tsvangirai and a younger Mugabe – as a sign that the electoral playing field has been levelled.
“Five years ago, some of those posters would have been torn down. Now, everyone causing violence is dealt with, irrespective of political affiliation,” says Chinembiri, from Mbare, a township outside Harare.
While MDC-T supporters were singing and shouting down Mugabe on their way to the final rally on Monday morning, Zanu-PF supporters could only passively mumble insults. Days earlier, police tried to prevent the MDC-T rally, but subsequently backed down. Therefore the 2013 elections can be deemed to be the free expression of the will of the Zimbabwean voters.
Tsvangirai admitted, when casting his vote on Wednesday, that there “was a sense of calm” – but declared them “null and void” on Friday.
Voting day was peaceful, except for glitches in some polling stations where voters could not find their names and some were turned away.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the AU’s Olusegun Obasanjo confirmed that the elections were free, and were at pains to declare the fairness and credibility of the polls.
Fairness is dependent on the institutions entrusted with ensuring a democratic climate. Unless Mugabe’s government implements the letter and spirit of the global political agreement, it is implausible to compete fairly with Zanu-PF.
First, the state media – still dominant, with a wider reach – are unapologetic in their hatred of Tsvangirai and openly worship “Comrade Mugabe”.
Granted, Zimbabweans are not stupid and could laugh off the circus that is ZBC, the state broadcasting corporation. Tsvangirai won in 2008 despite such a hostile state broadcaster.
ZBC covered Mugabe’s final rally live, but MDC and other political parties’ rallies weren’t given live coverage, except negative reporting in its bulletins.
This is clearly against the electoral laws as espoused in the global political agreement.
For a country with a high rural, poor population who rely largely on the state broadcaster for information, ZBC’s broadcasts could be defined as a violent assault on democracy. Its influence and power cannot be easily dismissed.
The Herald, the state-owned and largest Harare daily, is competing with ZBC for the prestigious quinquennial propaganda award.
One may argue that newspapers such as the Harare-based Daily News – and other privately-owned titles – are the extreme opposite of The Herald, and are therefore balancing the propaganda scale.
While The Herald was predicting a landslide for Mugabe, the Daily News reported on Tuesday that Tsvangirai would get 61 percent.
Second, the integrity of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) – entrusted with determining the loser and the winner – is questionable.
Despite complaints from the two factions of the MDC and Zapu, some observers have privately raised questions regarding irregularities in the voters roll, the fundamental tool in determining the credibility of any election.
MDC national deputy chairman and transport minister Morgan Komichi was arrested for revealing that some of the ballots cast during special voting on July 25 were found in rubbish bins.
ZEC has refused to give the electoral copy of the voters roll to the opposition, while Mugabe admitted that he had received his on Monday.
Judge Rita Makarau, head of ZEC, has thus far failed to explain her commission’s incompetence. But the commission has efficiently organised massive, harmonised elections – presidential, parliamentary and local – in the shortest space of time.
Zapu has a copy – which The Sunday Independent has seen – that shows duplicated names on the roll, largely in Zanu-PF areas.
It is understood that Obasanjo had angrily chastised the ZEC for these irregularities. The commission has in turn blamed the registrar-general, Tobaiwa Mudede, who could not be reached. He cancelled a scheduled press conference on Wednesday evening.
It is puzzling that Obasanjo says such irregularities are not significant enough to change the outcome.
Mugabe has argued that he has nothing to do with ZEC’s incompetence. Fair enough. However, it was the same ZEC that ensured his controversial victory in 2008 after refusing to release the elections for three weeks when it was clear that Mugabe had lost. He questionably won the run-off.
MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora claims that the ZEC will first give the election results to the joint operations command, a committee of security generals.
He could not produce any concrete evidence to support his claim. But the generals’ financial interests and fear that they could be forced to account for Gukurahundi, the massacre of the Ndebele people in the 1980s, are some of the reasons for resisting any transfer of power.
This is why Mugabe, at 89, is still looking forward to a seventh term.
It is clear that he will keep the State House, the official presidential residency, but what new will he offer the Zimbabwean people? Their choice is to either endure the economic hardships or flee.
The five years of unity government saw slight improvements. But will Mugabe on his own pull the country out of the current economic morass?
The economy seems to be in fairly good shape when measured against the 2008 conditions, but in reality the Zimbabwean economy is still performing dismally. Finance Minister Tendai Biti – MDC-T secretary-general – has projected a 3.4 percent growth, from an optimistic 5 percent.
In his mid-term budget speech last month, Biti said the desperately needed foreign direct investments were “constrained” mainly because of investors jittery over the elections. The investors’ suspicious attitude towards Mugabe means his pending victory could be bad news for the economy.
Harare looks much better than it was in 2008, with shelves at retail stores being testimony to a healthier outlook. I was able to buy basic groceries and enjoy a decent dinner. Most products in retail stores are imported from South Africa, an indication that manufacturing has not picked up.
The Confederation of Zimbabwean Industries’ 2012 manufacturing survey indicated that the sector decreased its capacity to 44 percent.
Media Institute of Southern Africa, a pressure group, says “over 100 companies have closed down during the past year, with Bulawayo, once the country’s industrial hub, being hardest hit”.
Mugabe admitted that the country was importing maize from Zambia, confirming two ironies. First, Zambia used to depend on Zimbabwe for maize. Second, some maize farmers in Zambia are former Zimbabwean farmers forced out by Mugabe’s violent land policy.
Major banks – except for CBZ – are mainly British and South African. Zimbabwe is still a country without its own money; US dollars and the rand are legal tender.
The traffic lights are now functional, there are no queues for fuel and power outages are fewer than five years ago.
But water is still a problem, according to Rejoyce Sitholo, 41, a sales manager from Epworth in Harare, “You need a borehole for uninterrupted water supply”.
While violent crime is very low, unemployment is at 85 percent.
But people like hotel staffer Promise Mazazura, 36, who stayed at home most of 2008 because her salary stagnated behind the skyrocketing inflation and rising transport costs, are now earning a living.
She spends a significant portion of her $210 (R2 060) monthly earnings on medical aid and paying for extra lessons for her three children because “teachers are on unofficial go-slow”. “They are poorly paid, they make extra cash from extra lessons. Without medical aid there is no health care. Public hospitals are a joke,” she says.
She is, however, better off than millions such as Blessing Khumalo, a 26-year old mother of one who left Bulawayo in 2011 to look for opportunities in Harare. She has “given up” searching for a job, and stays with relatives in Harare.
Unemployment is a challenge for whoever wins, especially for Mugabe, who inherited and grew southern Africa’s economic hub (outside apartheid South Africa) and stood by while things fell apart.
He blames sanctions and the West for Zimbabwe’s economic woes, and maintains that his people still love him. He is right. But at what cost?
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