15 June 2000
Nothing must be conceded in Zimbabwe's flawed election
|President Mugabe has abandoned
any pretence of free and fair elections. As European, Commonwealth and
African observers arrive in Zimbabwe, thugs from the ruling Zanu (PF) party and
"war veterans" are deliberately stepping up their intimidation. Across the
country, villagers are being silenced, dissident farm workers raped, beaten and
threatened, opposition candidates are being killed and vigilantes armed with
clubs and knives are preventing people attending rallies called by the Movement
for Democratic Change. Every effort is made to impede the 300 monitors arriving
in the country, with delays at the border, exorbitant accreditation fees and
warnings not to talk to any farm workers. Most abhorrently, Mr Mugabe is further
stoking the flames of race hatred, declaring that the five white farmers
murdered by squatters "had it coming."
The aim is transparent. Mr Mugabe wants to force the monitors to pull out ahead of the election so that there is no one to witness the wholesale fraud that his supporters are preparing. Already the United Nations mission has left, prompting outspoken denunciation in Washington of state-orchestrated intimidation. Far from deflecting a man whose paranoia grows daily, this only encourages Mr Mugabe into more brazen attempts to browbeat the others. He has already, shamefully, ensured that no Briton is included among the Commonwealth or EU observers; now he is using mobs of veterans to prevent anyone hearing at first hand how the countryside is being punished for daring to flout Zanu (PF) in the February referendum.
To their credit, the monitors refuse to be silenced. Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Nigerian President and head of the 44-member Commonwealth group, said their job was to go and observe, and that is what they intended to do. He brushed aside the absurd ban on talking to farm workers and ridiculed Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi's claim that the land issue had nothing to do with the election. And the 150 EU monitors appear equally determined to go wherever they choose.
Over the next 10 days, intimidation will grow. To write off the election now, however, would be to play into Mr Mugabe's blood-stained hands. As long as Morgan Tsvangirai, the courageous MDC leader, is prepared to risk his life for democracy, he should be given whatever support possible to remain on the ballot. And if, despite the predictable vote-rigging and mob violence, a substantial number of ordinary Zimbabweans are observed registering their disgust with the corruption and adventurism now destroying the country, the Zanu (PF) "victory" will be seen for the cynical fraud that it promises to be.
Nothing would be more damning than such a conclusion from Mr Abubakar, a man who saw a decade of corruption and violence in his own country and still had the courage to end the military dictatorship that had made Nigeria a pariah. It would say much more than the pusillanimous statements by President Mbeki, whose "quiet diplomacy" has so spectacularly failed to make any impact on his neighbour. Democracy can be killed just as easily by defeatism as by intimidation; no observer, no African neighbour and no UN mission should concede anything that helps Mr Mugabe steal the election.