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  • 2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles

  • Mugabe decree reinforces rigging claims
    Cuthbert Nzou, ZimOnline
    March 21, 2008

    Harare - President Robert Mugabe's last minute chopping and changing of agreements reached with the opposition only help buttress opposition claims that he is out to steal the ballot next week, political analysts told ZimOnline yesterday.

    Mugabe earlier this week decreed changes to Zimbabwe's Electoral Act to allow police officers into polling booths to assist illiterate and physically incapacitated voters to cast their ballots.

    The presidential decree erased an agreement reached with the opposition during South African-brokered talks that prohibited police from doubling up as polling officers and banned them from coming within 100 meters of a polling station to avoid intimidating voters.

    Political scientist Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe's decision to unilaterally change electoral laws appeared to confirm the view that the March 29 polls will not be free and fair, especially when considered in the context of threats by security commanders to reject an opposition victory.

    Masunungure, who teaches political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said: "It (amendment) gives impetus to allegations that ZANU PF (Mugabe's ruling party) intends to rig the elections.

    "Recent statements by Chihuri (Augustine, Police Commissioner General) and Mugabe's move this week are worrying. You cannot blame the opposition when it says the elections will not be free and fair."

    Chihuri last week vowed he would not allow "Western-backed puppets" to rule Zimbabwe, repeating similar comments made a fortnight ago by Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, General Constantine Chiwenga that the military would be prepared to salute Mugabe only.

    The statements by Chihuri and Chiwenga, who as ZDF chief is commander of Zimbabwe's army and air force, were seen as threats to stage a military coup in the event Mugabe loses next week.

    The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party believes police play a pivotal role in rigging of elections and intimidating illiterate rural voters to vote for Mugabe and ZANU PF.

    The opposition party said Mugabe's decree allowing police back in polling booths was evidence that the "police are indeed used as a weapon of intimidation in the ZANU PF power retention agenda. Secondly, in our view, it is unacceptable that Mugabe, a participant in this election can change the rules of the game when the game is being played."

    Another UZ political scientist, John Makumbe, urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to condemn Mugabe for shifting goal posts just days before elections.

    The regional bloc that was the political sponsor of the President Thabo-Mbeki-led talks between ZANU PF and the MDC should pressure the Zimbabwean leader to reinstate the police ban agreed with the opposition, he said.

    "SADC should condemn Mugabe and make sure that he goes back to the earlier agreement. We cannot have a partisan police in polling stations. They are cogs in the ZANU PF rigging machinery," said Makumbe, who is a critic of Mugabe's rule.

    Allegations of vote rigging have marred Zimbabwe's polls in recent years, which have also been stained by charges of violence and intimidation of voters.

    The United States, European Union and other Western governments have maintained sanctions against Mugabe's government they accuse of gross human rights abuses and stealing his way to victory in elections in 2002.

    Mugabe, who beat main challenger Morgan Tsvangirai by a mere 400 000 votes in the 2002 poll, insists that he won fairly and says Western sanctions have worsened Zimbabwe's economic crisis.

    Analysts say support from the military as well as a skewed political playing field is enough to ensure victory for Mugabe despite an economic meltdown that has spawned hyperinflation and shortages of food, fuel, essential medicines, hard cash and just about every basic survival commodity.

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