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Mugabe's election rigging machine in high gear
April 23, 2007

HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party has set in motion a campaign of violence and intimidation and gerrymandering to ensure a predetermined outcome even before the first ballot is cast in the March 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections, analysts said.

Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, has in the past been accused by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party of cheating his way to victory in major elections since 2000.

Political analysts said the campaign of violence, which has seen opposition figures being brutally assaulted and tortured by state security agents, was meant to intimidate and weaken the MDC, which has been the most potent threat to Mugabe’s rule.

"The government’s critics see the attacks on the opposition as the beginning of a strategy to ensure that the MDC will be unable to win even a reasonably fair presidential race," the New York Times newspaper said in a recent commentary.

Analysts said violence and terrorism charges slapped on opponents in recent weeks were a tactic to bog down the opposition in endless court appearances, while the clock ticks towards March 2008.

This was also meant to drain its war chest for the polls and leave it without any financial resources during the election time, the analysts said.

The MDC charges that Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis has been caused by disputed elections but Mugabe in turn says he has won fairly and charges that the West is funding the MDC to topple him as punishment for seizing white-owned commercial farms.

But hundreds of MDC supporters have died in political violence mostly unleashed by war veterans, ZANU PF youths and security agents since 2000 as Mugabe fought for his political life amid growing disenchantment over his controversial and often populist policies.

Analysts said last week’s creation of new boundaries for urban and peri-urban areas by the government was meant to dilute the MDC’s support in its urban strongholds ahead of next year’s vote.

The MDC has enjoyed overwhelming support in urban areas, where workers are battling with a deep economic crisis that has pushed inflation to 2 000 percent and left eight in every ten people without a job and spawned acute shortages of foreign currency and food.

Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo said new boundaries which would incorporate rural wards in Mashonaland provinces into Harare Metropolitan Provinces would be gazetted by the government soon. A similar exercise would be undertaken in Bulawayo Metropolitan Province.

Political analysts said the result would be more urban constituencies with rural wards and ZANU PF would claim it has made inroads in re-capturing urban votes from the MDC.

"In politics it is called gerrymandering, a process by which urban and peri-urban areas are divided or expanded by the ruling government as to weaken the strongholds of the opposition political parties," John Makumbe, a political commentator and known Mugabe critic said.

"MDC’s strongholds are in the urban areas, so they are trying to weaken it by incorporating some parts of rural areas into Harare Province ," Makumbe added.

The analysts said while ZANU PF and the MDC were preparing for political talks under the stewardship of South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mugabe was forging ahead with a process to ensure victory even if elections were to be free and fair.

Mugabe and ZANU PF have enjoyed strong support in rural areas, which bore the brunt of the country’s bloody 1970s liberation struggle. The MDC has failed to penetrate the rural areas partly because of violence and intimidation against its supporters in these areas.

The MDC says only a new constitution and internationally supervised elections will guarantee a free vote but analysts said even if that were to happen, pre-election violence and gerrymandering would guarantee ZANU PF victory.

"We are getting into a phase where an election is simply to endorse a pre-planned result because if you tamper with the electoral process and unleash so much violence, and put that together with the apathetic nature of the Zimbabwean voter, then you have a guaranteed victory," Eldred Masunungure, chairman of the political science department at the University of Zimbabwe said.

"ZANU-PF is a cunning political animal and it will stop at nothing to make sure there is little room to wriggle for the MDC," Masunungure said. – ZimOnline

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