Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is the fix in?

On Saturday, voters in Zimbabwe went to the polls to elect a new president, parliament and local councils. Despite intimidation, a lack of independent media, very public (and threatening) statements by government officials, the presence of police in polling stations, and the inability of the millions of emigrants to vote, unofficial results from polling places seem to confirm that longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be elected president. Financial Times reports that independent observers put the race at Tsvangirai 55%, President Robert Mugabe 36% (with most of the remaining votes presumably going to ex-government minister Simba Makoni). These tallies came from about two-thirds of polling stations, albeit more heavily weighted toward the opposition-heavy urban areas.

There are a lot more questions this time than in previous elections, however. In 2002, the entire government apparatus still backed President Mugabe; when counting stopped with Tsvangirai in the lead, and suddenly Mugabe had won, the opposition had few options. This time around, there are cracks in the leadership, evinced by Makoni's breakaway campaign (which does not appear, however, to have had a great deal of success). These cracks are much the result of the disastrous economy (including inflation over 100,000%, price controls which have stifled production and restrictions on bank withdrawals) which even some rural dwellers as well as civil servants, all traditional backers of Mugabe, must accredit to the horrible economic reign of Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

With the delay in the release of results, one can conjecture that, perhaps, the leadership is unsure how to proceed as they lose by a clear margin. The MDC has already declared preliminary victory, not wanting to be caught flat-footed like in 2002. Reports state that riot police are being deployed on the streets--perhaps in preparation for the announcement of the "results." Could the leadership hope to carry out a quick arrest of leading opposition figures to stifle any protests? And how strong is the MDC's grassroots organization this time? In the past, protests have been brutally suppressed, including the breaking of Tsvangirai's skull just two years ago.

There are three possibilities:
(1) Mugabe concedes. Not likely.
(2) The electoral commission announces that a runoff will be needed as no candidate reached 50 percent of the vote. While this seems like a "compromise" to some (I think I actually saw that word used in a BBC article), it's the worst option, as it gives another period for repression to intensify and magnifies the chance of violence.
(3) Mugabe is proclaimed the winner, in which case, the MDC will probably try to begin some sort of protests, and the government will try to preempt them. The presence of riot police on the streets may testify to the beginning of this strategy.

At any rate, we should know the "official results" within 24 hours.

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