'Zimbabweans fear election violence'

HARARE - Long-suffering Zimbabweans, who have been at the receiving end of political violence for the past 37 years, said they are dreading next year’s watershed elections.

This comes as the country is set to hold elections next year pitting President Robert Mugabe, 93, and an opposition coalition likely to be led by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

A recent report by political think-tank, Afrobarometer, revealed that more than half of the country’s 13 million population are not comfortable with the impending election period.

“While Zimbabwe has conducted regular elections as and when they are legally due, considerable public debate as focused on how open and honest these elections have been, and the MDC-T has challenged the outcomes of all post-2000 elections,” read part of the report.

“Survey data show that fear during election campaigns is a cause for significant concern: More than half (52 percent) of Zimbabweans say they fear political intimidation or violence ‘somewhat’ (18 percent) or ‘a lot’ (34 percent). Only 30 percent say they have no fear ‘at all’ of election-related intimidation or violence,” Afrobarometer said.

This comes as Zimbabwe’s elections for years have always been characterised by alleged political violence. State security forces have allegedly committed acts of violence against thousands of civilians, targeting primarily political opponents and aid workers.

Human rights violations have included imprisonment, enforced disappearance, murder, torture, and rape.

Critics have described the 2008 elections as one of the bloodiest in the country and accuse Mugabe and his Zanu PF party for using systematic torture, widespread displacements, and a general campaign of terror against the opposition.

As a result, far more urbanites (64 percent) than rural residents (46 percent), according to Afrobarometer, fear political intimidation or violence during election campaigns “somewhat” or “a lot,” and women (58 percent) are more likely than men (47 percent) to express such fear.

“Fear of political intimidation and violence during election time decreases with age (ranging from 57 percent of youth aged 18-35 to 42 percent of elders aged 56 and older) and increases with respondents’ education level, from 24 percent of those with no formal education to 57 percent of those with secondary or post-secondary qualifications,” the report added.

The study also further revealed that the main MDC supporters (69 percent) and uncommitted respondents (64 percent) are more than twice as likely as Zanu PF adherents (28 percent) to fear becoming victims of political intimidation or violence during election campaigns.

“A majority of residents in four provinces say they are at least “somewhat” fearful of election-related intimidation or violence: Harare (71 percent), Manicaland (70 percent), Bulawayo (57 percent), and Mashonaland East (53 percent).

“By contrast, a majority of citizens in Midlands (52 percent) and Matabeleland South (51 percent) say they do “not at all” fear political intimidation or violence during election time,” Afrobarometer said.

Another aspect of election-related fear is the perceived need to exercise caution when casting one’s ballot.

The report also showed that almost two-thirds (64 percent) of Zimbabweans say people are generally “careful about how they vote”.

The political think-tank noted that urban residents are particularly concerned about having to exercise caution — 74 percent against 59 percent of rural residents.

“Analysis by education level shows that those without formal schooling are least concerned about the need to exercise care when voting (41 percent), while those with secondary (69 percent) and post-secondary qualifications (68 percent) are far more likely to say people often/always have to be careful about how they vote.

“Youth are the most cautious when it comes to casting ballots: 70 percent say people often/always have to be careful, compared to 65 percent of middle-aged and 53 percent of older respondents. An overwhelming majority of MDC-T supporters (90 percent) and non-partisan respondents (71 percent) say voters must often/always be careful, compared to 45 percent of Zanu PF adherents,” the report added.

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