Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, March 25, 2005

WHY DOES MUGABE BOTHER TO HOLD ELECTIONS?

There's going to be an election in Zimbabwe on March 31st. Here's what Mugabe is doing to win it:

And ZANU people say bluntly that only their supporters will get government food aid. Farming has collapsed, a drought is now parching the southern half of the country, most aid from outside the country is blocked, and AIDS is rampant. Last month the Johannesburg-based Famine Early Warning System Network, estimated that 5.8m Zimbabweans, in a population of around 11.5m, desperately need food aid—or they could starve. So voting the “wrong way” looks to many of them like a death-sentence.

Furthermore, the ZANU-appointed electoral commission is happy to use an out-of-date voters' roll. This, along with ballot stuffing, could be ZANU's single biggest vote-rigging advantage. A full register has never been disclosed. A partial audit of the roll by the MDC in Bulawayo shows why. Of a sample group of 500 voters, barely half were listed correctly. Nearly a fifth of those named were dead; officials ensure that such “ghosts” are loyal ZANU voters. The South Africa-based Zimbabwe Institute, which advises the MDC, reckons that this probably gives ZANU an 800,000-vote bonus in a voting population of around 5.3m. In addition, the 3m-odd Zimbabweans, most of them very likely MDC backers, who have been driven into exile by economic collapse or government repression, are barred from postal voting.


And yet this is not a Saddam-type election, where the dictator gets 100% of the votes:

[I]f the poll were free and fair, the MDC would romp home. Despite massive intimidation and vote-rigging in the last general election, in 2000, the newly formed party won 57 seats, with 47% of votes cast, against 62 seats for Mr Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF (to give it its full acronym) which officially took 48.6% of the vote...

Mr Mugabe seems determined, this time, to win two-thirds of the seats, so he can then change the constitution. Among other things, he might scrap a provision that requires an election soon after a president steps down.


First, Mugabe is an international pariah whose misrule has driven the country to inflation and famine, so why would anyone vote for him? Second, if Mugabe is willing to rig elections and use intimidation, why doesn't he just cancel the election, or, better yet, falsify the results to give himself 99%, like Arab dictators do? Does it help his self-image to avoid making his elections into total travesties? Or would he for some reason be unable to rig elections that much-- because the loyalty of certain elements within his ruling apparatus hinges on the observance of electoral forms?

The uprising in Kyrgyzstan is testimony to the global appeal of the democratic idea. But the pantomime election in Zimbabwe is weirder evidence of the same thing.

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