|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
March 31 - When Vincent finished his night shift at 7 this morning, he went straight to the polling station in the Zimbabwean township of Emakandeni. He hadn’t eaten or slept since the previous afternoon. “I won’t sleep today,” he said. “I just want to vote.” Three hours later, faint from hunger and exhaustion, he did.
Vincent was especially optimistic about his ballot this time around. Unlike other elections in this southern African nation, most observers agree that today’s poll was not marred by widespread state-sponsored violence that left scores of government opponents dead in 2000 and 2002. “This is by far the most peaceful election witnessed in this country,” said Sikhumbuzo Ndireni, a spokesperson for the independent electoral candidates running against President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.
Nonetheless, opposition candidates charged that while the day of the ballot may have been relatively peaceful, the elections were still far from fair. Victor Moyo, a spokesperson for the Movement for Democratic Change, the largest opposition party, reported some voting irregularities in the countryside around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. About 50 youths wearing ZANU-PF T shirts, he said, had gathered at the Mandalay Farm polling station, violating a regulation that party supporters keep at least 250 yards from the polling stations. This intimidated voters, he said, because the youth wing of ZANU-PF was often at the forefront of violence in previous elections. More seriously, the MDC’s candidate for Insiza went missing, along with the chief official who had to monitor the elections in the remote region. They reportedly went into hiding after being attacked by ruling party militants.
Equally telling, Vincent, who voted against Mugabe’s party, was too afraid to tell NEWSWEEK his full name. Like many Zimbabweans voting for the opposition party or for the new wave of independent candidates who are mainly disillusioned former government officials, he says he is tired of a string of companies in Bulawayo closing down, tired of worrying about whether there will be food in the stores, tired of being tear-gassed when he attends rallies opposing the ruling party, tired of retrenchments—he lost his job as a clerk last year and now struggles to make ends meet as a hospital orderly. “Our country has been isolated for its bad governance,” he says. “We need total change.”
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Mugabe has eased up on some election rules to avoid the international opprobrium that followed previous polls—votes are now counted on site, rather than taken off to a central depot—but nobody expects the despotic ruler to lose control of the country he has controlled for the last 25 years.
Constitutional experts say that Zimbabwe’s electoral system is deeply flawed, with the International Bar Association reporting that Mugabe has ensured a “military presence in key electoral institutions.” The government committee that announces the election results is not open to observers or opposition party members. In addition, Mugabe can personally appoint 30 of the 150 seats in Parliament, and even if the opposition party wins a majority the Constitution allows him to appoint all of his own government ministers. “No election makes sense under the current Constitution,” the chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, Lovemore Madhuku, said on the eve of election, “because it won’t change the government.” Indeed, says Ndireni, Mugabe can even nullify the election results if he so chooses.
The opposition spokesman, who toured several polling stations in western Zimbabwe, said voter turnout was low, especially among young people. This could be disastrous for the opposition, which needs youthful support to overcome Mugabe’s 30-seat advantage. One 18-year-old woman who asked not be identified expressed the sentiments of many people her age: She couldn’t be bothered to vote because both the ruling party and the main opposition party have flawed policies and are making promises of an instant economic turnaround that they can’t keep, she said.
Moyo stills garners huge support in his impoverished home constituency of Tsholodzo, where he built a grain-marketing depot and installed city lighting. But by running as an independent in this election, Moyo’s reach is limited to this area. Lovemore Ncube, a 33-year old accountant who works for Zimbabwe’s electricity company in Bulawayo, admires Moyo for using his power while in government to help the rural poor. If Moyo had started a new political party, Ncube says he would have voted for him today. “We need someone with compassion,” he says.
Independents are also hampered by their lack of financing. By the time voting began this morning, three of the 15 independent candidates had withdrawn from the race. Ndireni, the spokesman for the independents, confirmed newspaper reports that government intelligence agents were hunting down the financial backers of candidates like Moyo to try and thwart the formation of a new party.
For voters at the polls, there were other concerns. When Vincent finally cast his vote in Emakandeni, he was surprised to find a glass-clear ballot box. Before the election, the opposition had lobbied for translucent voting boxes that would ensure that there was no ballot-stuffing before the elections began. But the fully transparent versions frightened many in rural areas. “[The ruling party] is putting the word out, ‘Now we’re going to know how your village voted. And if you as a village want food, you’re going to vote for us,” Vincent Coltart, an MDC candidate in Bulawayo told Voice of America.
With the distribution of Zimbabwe’s entire corn crop, its staple diet, controlled by the government’s Grain Board, the availability of food plays an enormous role in Zimbabwean politics. “People have been suffering from food insecurity caused by drought, land reform, and the country's economic demise for several years,” says Michael Huggins, a spokesman for the World Food Program who was in Zimbabwe this week. “Clearly anyone who has been benefiting from food supplied by the government will probably continue to swear their allegiance to the party during the election and beyond.”
Still, voter Vincent was glad he’d taken the trouble to
go to the polls. “I am positive my vote will be counted,” he says. “I did the
right thing.” Then he headed home to sleep, ignoring the headlines from the
state-owned newspapers already proclaiming victory for Mugabe—even though the
votes are yet to be counted.
UK Zimbabweans vote MDC
Overwhelming support for the MDC. That was the result of the the parliamentary elections – at least at the one polling station where a free and fair internationally-monitored ballot took place, namely the mock election outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London.
Scores of exiled Zimbabweans cast their symbolic vote
Many people showed great interest in the situation in
The media showed keen interest, not only in the mock
voting but also in the overnight Vigil from the previous day to express support for a similar
A stalwart group kept the Vigil alive throughout the
night, drumming and singing, and even in the heart of darkness turnout never
dropped below 16. Many – sleepy and
exhausted – kept up their support during polling day – a total of 22 hours! Even then it was not over for several of
them: they were needed in television and radio studios to explain why the world
should not give up on
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