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maneuvering dims hopes for fair election
Childress, Wall Street Journal
March 22, 2008
Anxious to ensure his
victory in next Saturday's polls, the government of Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe has banned Western observers, intimidated the opposition
and bribed starving rural dwellers with food, international watchdog
All that has dimmed hope
that despite international pressure and two strong opposition candidates,
the elections in Zimbabwe will be any fairer this time around than
in previous years.
Still, the election will
be the first time in Mr. Mugabe's 28-year rule that he will face
a serious challenger from within his own ranks. The president's
former finance minister, Simba Makoni, is running against him, as
is longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr. Tsvangirai, a dedicated
human-rights activist and trade unionist, has endured beatings and
intimidation for opposing the government in previous elections.
But his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has never succeeded
in defeating Mr. Mugabe.
A chemist trained in
the U.K., Mr. Makoni was fired from the government cabinet after
criticizing the president's economic policy. When he announced his
candidacy in February, some outside observers and Zimbabweans in
the diaspora had held out hope that he might at least be able to
loosen Mr. Mugabe's iron grip on power. Mr. Makoni appeared to be
backed by high-ranking members of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe
African National Unity-Patriotic Front.
He also had the support
of a breakaway faction of the MDC, led by Arthur Mutambara, a businessman
and Rhodes Scholar. He threw his weight behind Mr. Makoni on the
premise that a divided opposition would guarantee Mr. Mugabe a win.
The Zimbabwean government
agreed -- after negotiations brokered by South African president
Thabo Mbeki and the Southern African Development Community, a respected
regional body -- to implement new guidelines aimed at ensuring a
free and fair election.
But hope that this poll
would be different has waned as the brief campaign season comes
to a close. The government hasn't implemented the reforms and has
banned observers from countries that it says are critical of Mr.
Mugabe, which includes all European nations.
"We do not expect
a free and fair election," said Andebrhan Giorgis, senior adviser
for the International Crisis Group's Africa program. "We're
hoping for the best, but that's hope against hope."
a report by Human
Rights Watch, an independent group, Zanu-PF supporters have
harassed and beat up opposition supporters. The report also said
that government and party officials have bribed rural voters with
food and farming equipment, and withheld it from those who weren't
registered Zanu-PF members. The government has dismissed the report,
saying that Human Rights Watch is biased against Zimbabwe.
Both opposition candidates
have highlighted the economic devastation in Zimbabwe, a country
rich in platinum and gold but wrecked by corruption and mismanagement.
Inflation is the highest in the world, and people have little food
or running water.
Yet Mr. Mugabe is still
popular in rural areas, where access to unfiltered information is
scarce and people still remember the president when he first came
to power in 1980 as a young revolutionary who overthrew white supremacist
In a bid to keep those
votes, Mr. Mugabe signed a bill into law this month that will allow
locals to take majority shares in foreign companies. Analysts fear
the populist move could further devastate the shattered economy,
similar to his 2000 decision to hand over white-run commercial farms
to untrained black workers.
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