Zim: different poll, same problems

HARARE - As in 2002, fairness in Zimbabwe’s elections was in the eye of the observer.

The elections polarised opinion with African governments overwhelmingly endorsing them while the US, Britain and other western nations portrayed the outcome as somewhere between plain unfair and grand larceny.

President Robert Mugabe was declared the winner and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told his supporters to stay calm.

These are bullet points about the July 31 polls. But in a reminder of the adage that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, they actually refer to the presidential ballot of March 9 to 10 2002.

Nothing much has changed in the intervening decade, apart from the reduced level of violence, the mass migration of Zimbabweans, mainly to South Africa, and Mugabe’s winning margin.

Eleven years ago he was declared the winner against Tsvangirai by 56 percent of the vote against 42 percent, compared with an improved 61 percent — 34 percent last week.

Mugabe was a spry 78 back then. Today he is Africa’s oldest leader, starting his new five-year term at the age of 89.

The yardstick for elections used to be whether they were “free and fair”. When it comes to Zimbabwe, it seems that the supreme judgment is if they were “peaceful” or not.

South Africa’s then president in 2002, Thabo Mbeki, was not Mugabe’s bosom buddy but he was a crucial ally against the combined opprobrium of the US, the Commonwealth and former colonial ruler Britain. This time, the build-up presented President Jacob Zuma as “tough on Mugabe”.

But quickly after the result was released, Zuma sent his “profound congratulations” to Mugabe, saying the result reflected the will of the people and advising all parties to accept it.

There was a fascinating range of verdicts from electoral observer missions in 2002. One of the most independent came from Sadc (Southern African Development Community) parliamentarians, who were at odds with African governments.

“The climate of insecurity obtaining in Zimbabwe since the 2000 parliamentary elections was such that the electoral process could not be said to adequately comply with the norms and standards for elections in the Sadc region. The voters’ roll was only made available three days before the polls, leaving no time for the electorate to verify its accuracy.”

That failing was even greater last week because the voters’ roll was not shared with the opposition, observers and the public until the eve of voting, if at all. Even then, there was no electronic copy of the voters’ roll.

Sadc declared itself satisfied with the election last week but less fulsomely and rapidly than the 15-nation body’s top electoral officers, who had their own observer group.

This time, Mugabe insisted that there should be no British, American or European Union (EU) observer missions at the elections.

However, the ban did not silence Washington. “In light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the US does not believe the results represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people,” Secretary of State John Kerry said last week.

The EU, whose membership has swollen since 2002 to 28 and is less dominated by former colonisers, has been mildly critical but appears to be hedging its bets. Before the vote, Brussels said it would be guided by the Sadc and African Union (AU) assessments, although not bound by them.

EU member Britain put out its own, more sceptical, statements.

The AU preliminary verdict last week was studded with criticisms, notably of the voters’ roll. Yet the AU observers’ leader, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, went further, coming close to unilaterally declaring the poll “fair” as well as free.

The AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was notorious for siding systematically with incumbent presidents and their ruling parties. In 2002, Gertrude Mongella led the OAU mission and was unambiguous: “The OAU observer team wishes to state that in general the elections were transparent, credible, free and fair.”

Did the Commonwealth’s 42 observers watch the same election 11 years ago? There was a battle royal inside that team to find the right wording, but the verdict was clear.

“All the foregoing brings us to the conclusion that the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors”.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth as punishment and in 2003, Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe completely.

Mbeki sent a well-balanced 50-member mission from South Africa in 2002. Some of the South African observers gasped when their leader Sam Motsuenyane ended his long statement with these words: “It is the view of the South African mission that the outcome of the 2002 Zimbabwe Presidential elections should be considered legitimate.”

Japan surely took first prize for a beautifully polite assessment with a nasty sting in the tail.

“The Japanese Election Observer Mission has to say with regret that it is compelled to conclude that there was a deviation from fairness in the Zimbabwe 2002 presidential elections.”


Comments (1)

Mugabe at 98 a former teacher is now to give his last lesson to the leaders of SADC , Africa and other dictactors on how to rig elections.Many of them have in response conguratulated him on the rigged elections in Zimbabwe.In turn most of them are going to employ the dirt tactics when they hold elections and no one will dispute because its now African way of conducting elections.

chimwango - 12 August 2013

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