what's left

Mugabe vote rigging allegations

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By Stephen Gowans

It’s not the outcome of the upcoming March 29 elections that is foreordained, but the opposition’s, civil society’s, and Western media’s judgment of the election’s fairness that has been predetermined.

To see this, it’s instructive to note how the New York Times treated Mugabe’s chances of winning the election, before falling into line with the main opposition MDC party’s self-serving “Mugabe can’t win without rigging the vote” rhetoric.

On February 26, reporter Barry Bearak predicted Mugabe would “coast to victory” because the opposition had “failed to unite behind one presidential candidate.” The entry of Simba Makoni into the race, a former senior member of the ruling Zanu-PF party, would make the contest tighter, Bearak predicted, but acknowledged that “Mugabe…may still win handily.”

It was clear that Bearak didn’t think Mugabe would win because he had rigged the vote, but because the opposition was weak and fractured.

Three weeks ago, The Guardian (March 3, 2008) echoed Bearak’s assessment, declaring Zimbabwe’s opposition to be “weak and badly divided” and noted that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s “credibility has been worn away by poor leadership.”

Only recently have both newspapers begun to treat Mugabe as an unpopular leader who has to resort to vote rigging to stay in power.

The same pattern characterized Western media assessments of the last presidential elections in Belarus. Belarus, too, is on Washington’s list of governments targeted for regime change.

Months before the vote, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko’s popularity was openly acknowledged and his victory in the election confidently predicted.

However, in the final week leading up to the election, press reports suddenly reversed course, emphasizing the vote rigging allegations of the opposition. (See http://gowans.blogspot.com/2006_03_01_archive.html )

Significantly, Belarus’s opposition shares the same sources of funding, assistance and backing as Zimbabwe’s, and operates along the same lines and with the same goals.

The March 26 New York Times cited two leaders of US- and British-government funded NGOs, who averred confidently that the election would not be free and fair and that “the tabulated results are in the box and [Mugabe] has won.”

The newspaper did not acknowledge the NGO leaders’ connections to US- and British-government sources of funding – a significant omission, considering both governments have an interest in discrediting the Zimbabwean government.

At the same time, the newspaper’s reporters complained bitterly that Mugabe is buying votes by bestowing “tractors and plows on village chiefs whose gratitude is expected to be a reciprocal harvest of votes.”

The two allegations are contradictory. If Mugabe has rigged the elections, why does he need to buy votes?

As is true when imperialist states, the Western media, NGOs and peace and civil society scholars collaborate to bring down governments that refuse to do the West’s bidding, reality has been turned on its head.

While the case that says Mugabe has predetermined the outcome of the election has become the dominant view, through sheer repetition by a Western media that serves as a platform for a bought opposition and civil society, the evidence is paper thin.

The evidence that what is, in fact, predetermined, is the opposition and NGO judgment of the election, is far more compelling.

Written by what's left

March 27, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Zimbabwe

4 Responses

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  1. Excellent article Stephen.
    The media analysis of the 2006 Belarusian election being fascinating in its own right. It was interesting to see on the BBC, and elsewhere, the editorial opinion (last dicatator etc.) not matching what the journalists ‘on the ground’ were actually reporting.

    Belaruski

    March 27, 2008 at 2:38 pm

  2. I offer this comment on Gowan’s previous blogs on Zimbabwe, but it is also a relevant response to this post on the upcoming elections. It is disturbing, to say the least, that self-proclaimed ‘left’ intellectuals such as Gowan have bought Mugabe’s crude rhetoric that those who oppose him – the MDC and others – are agents of imperialism, acting in the (somewhat varied) interests of global capital and local white farmers. Nobody in Zimbabwe believes this rhetoric anymore; the reality of human suffering in the face of near-total economic collapse is not mitigated by blaming ‘the West’. Ordinary Zimbabweans do not look for international scapegoats to explain the collapse not only of the economy, but of social services, education, health care, and the supply of clean water and electricity. This is quite besides the overt and brutal repression of any expressions of dissidence, and the shameless violations of basic human rights that occur daily in Zimbabwe. The days are gone when we as left activists had to choose between a democratic, human rights based agenda, and an agenda for radical socio-economic transformation.

    Bond is absolutely right to look to civil society in Zimbabwe to find a left agenda: these are the organizations which are actively resisting an oppressive regime, and trying to find a way forward out of the societal implosion that has occurred over the past ten years or so. They are the grassroots women’s organizations, the teachers’ union, the farmworkers’ union, the residents’ associations, the democratic youth organizations, the student unions. Given the severely limited space in which they operate, other movements like Sokwanele and Zvakana are at the very least providing a voice of opposition. The MDC, for all that it has a background in the trade union movement, is now a political party rather than a movement; and as such, it has self-imposed limitations. Moreover, it has been unable to provide the kind of united leadership that civil society could rally around in a concerted effort to restore even a minimalist democracy in Zimbabwe. Even so, it is the opposition party in Saturday’s elections; those who want to see change have little choice but to rally behind it.

    As for Bond’s and Zunes’ credentials, both have a long history of articulating a left voice on behalf of the most powerless and most oppressed in struggles around the globe. Bond is merely expressing the position of COSATU, the most powerful labour ally that the Zimbabwean left and the labour movement, the ZCTU, have in the region at the moment. If only this voice were stronger – if the labour and social movements not only in Southern Africa, but in the world, would give their unequivocal solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe – in the way that they did for the South African liberation movement in the 1980s – we might yet find a way out of this messy impasse. If not, then it is the ordinary people in Zimbabwe who will suffer for another ten years or so, waiting for their dictator to die.

    Looking for the hidden imperialist puppet-master’s hand behind all opposition to authoritarian regimes is a surefire recipe for inaction. In the South African liberation movement, we held an amused contempt for the tiny ultra-left factions that stood apart, afraid to sully their socialist purity by engaging in real struggle. Funnily enough, nowadays, Patrick Bond – far from being considered an agent of imperialism – is seen in South Africa as standing in the ultra-left camp; he is one of the harshest critics of the ANC government’s economic policies, which are seen by the left as having capitulated to the agenda of global imperialism. However, for many of us who have consistently held a left position within the liberation movement, his defence of the left position within the labour movement and independent social movements has always been commendable. While you may make light of the importance of civil society, it is our essential means of ensuring continued pressure on our democratically-elected government to respond to the needs of the poor.

    As for Otpor – well, if only the opposition movements in Zimbabwe, both political parties and civil society, could organize as efficiently! Sometimes it is necessary to step back from self-righteous leftist rhetoric, take some action to break the impasse, and get rid of the dictator. Then ordinary people can, though ordinary democratic processes, find their own way forward.

    Janet,

    While your comments are a welcome relief from Patrick’s ranting, they remain, like his, completely disconnected from the context of antagonism between Mugabe’s efforts to invest national liberation with real content and the West’s attempts to stop him. Your position, which you dress up in the raiment of hard-headed realism, is hardly realistic; it comes from a flight from reality into a world divided into romantic Manichean categories — the heroic ordinary people, who, through democratic processes, will find their way forward, and the evil elites, who’ve betrayed the revolution, and whose rhetoric no one believes anymore. I don’t know what’s more disappointing – the fuzziness of your thinking or the alacrity with which you’re ready to jump into bed with people who have no interest in allowing the ordinary people to find their forward through democratic processes.

    Steve

    By the way, the 78-day NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was no small part of Otpor’s effectiveness.

    Janet Cherry

    March 27, 2008 at 2:58 pm

  3. I am a Zimbabwean writing from Zimbabwe. I have voted 4 times since 1980. The elections in Zimbabwe this year are the best in Africa ever. Peace is prevailing and all political players are campaigning peacefully.

    MDC have since become the crying babies of African politics because they believe the West is there to back and frivolous complaint they put across.

    If Mugabe wins let it be that’s what Zimbabwean’s want. The same applies to MDC and I tomorrow before 9 will vote for Simba Makoni.

    Munhu Mutema

    March 28, 2008 at 7:25 am

  4. Stephen Gowans is indisputably correct! It makes no sense that ZANU PF would need, let alone want to rigg elections. And Imperialism is not even trying to hide thier hand. This know the info below as well anyone.

    President tipped to win by 57%
    ZBC News

    By Mabasa Sasa

    PRESIDENT Mugabe is likely to overwhelmingly win tomorrow’s presidential election with between 56 to 57 percent of the vote, according to a survey conducted by the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Political Science and Administration.

    According to the countrywide survey overseen by the department’s chairman, Dr Joseph Kurebwa, the ruling Zanu-PF party will probably clinch a total of 41 Senate seats and 137 House of Assembly constituencies, ensuring another two-thirds in the next Parliament.

    Prior to the 2005 parliamentary elections, Dr Kurebwa carried out an almost similar survey and projected Zanu-PF would win 72 seats and the MDC 45, which was not far off the actual outcome.

    Zanu-PF went on to win 78 seats while the MDC got 41.

    Conducted over a period of a month, this year’s survey projects opposition MDC faction leader Morgan Tsvangirai taking between 26 and 27 percent of the presidential vote with independent Simba Makoni managing around 13-14 percent.

    The other independent presidential candidate, Langton Towungana, was likely to make up the numbers with 0,2 percent of the total vote count.

    The projections for President Mugabe compare favourably to the roughly 52 percent he garnered in the last presidential election in 2002.

    Dr Kurebwa’s study, which assessed the views of 10 322 people drawn from all the wards in Zimbabwe, concluded that Tsvangirai’s faction would win 13 Senate seats and 53 House of Assembly seats.

    The other MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara would secure six and 18 seats in the Senate and House of Assembly elections respectively.

    Only two independent candidates, one of them Jonathan Moyo, are expected to win House of Assembly seats. Moyo is the outgoing MP for Tsholotsho, which he won as an independent in 2005.

    Interestingly, Moyo has also predicted that President Mugabe will win the elections while another study conducted by David Coltart of the Mutambara faction had also predicted the President would win.

    In his prediction Moyo — a political scientist — said President Mugabe would romp to victory with Tsvangirai in second position and Makoni a distant third.

    Dr Kurebwa said they dispatched another team last week on Friday to carry out a mock presidential ballot exercise and the results so far were similar to those of the broader survey.

    “We have teams that are right now carrying out a mock election. People are given ballot papers and asked to vote in just the same way and procedure they will do on Saturday. So far, the results indicate more or less the same thing as the month-long survey,” he said.

    Dr Kurebwa gave the entry of Makoni in the presidential race as the probable reason why Tsvangirai’s share of the national vote would decline from the 48 percent he had in 2002 to the 26-27 percent projected by the survey.

    “Makoni is pulling his numbers from Harare and Bulawayo, which are areas the MDC has concentrated its campaign resources in. At the same time, the ruling party also believes that it should regain these urban constituencies and hence there is a tussle there.

    “Zanu-PF appears to have concentrated its resources in rural areas and managed to secure them. On the other hand, neither Makoni nor Tsvangirai has made any real attempts to market themselves there. So you have a situation where the areas the opposition are targeting being free for all while Zanu-PF is left alone to take the rural vote,” Dr Kurebwa said.

    For instance, the survey shows that in Lobengula, an opposition stronghold in Bulawayo, Tsvangirai will get 35 percent of the presidential vote, Makoni 33,5 percent and President Mugabe 29 percent; representing a 6 percent difference between the ruling party candidate and the opposition candidate expected to easily sweep that constituency.

    On the other hand, in the Zanu-PF stronghold of Uzumba, President Mugabe is expected to amass a colossal 92 percent of the vote compared to Tsvangirai and Makoni’s 4 and 2 percent respectively.

    Similarly, Tsvangirai’s lead over President Mugabe in the opposition stronghold of Chitungwiza South is a mere 2 percent.

    But in the Zanu-PF bastion of Mhangura, President Mugabe holds a 60 percent lead over both Tsvangirai and Makoni.

    An intriguing phenomenon across a number of constituencies is that President Mugabe will get significantly more votes than Zanu-PF Senate and House of Assembly candidates.

    Theoretically, this means President Mugabe as an individual holds more appeal for voters than some of the candidates representing the ruling party in particular constituencies.

    It also means there exists the probability of people voting for President Mugabe for the top job and then opting for someone else for the other available posts.

    “There is disgruntlement largely stemming from some primary elections and so we will see a few cases of people voting for President Mugabe and then someone not from the ruling party. But we do not expect this variation to exceed beyond 10 percent across the whole country,” Dr Kurebwa said.

    The survey also shows that a vast majority of the electorate is going to accept the election outcome.

    “Almost unanimously,” Dr Kurebwa said, “the people we polled say they will respect the outcome of the elections even if their favoured parties and candidates lose. People do not want to go through the bitter experiences of past disputed elections.”

    Dr Kurebwa said of those who had been polled, only 1,7 percent — mainly from the 18-25 age group — were not registered voters.

    Apart from gauging the manner in which people were likely to vote, the survey also assessed their reasons for supporting particular parties and candidates.

    For instance, Dr Kurebwa said, a significant proportion of the electorate was primarily motivated by economic development, followed by the liberation war and issues of national security.

    “People have strong feelings on the issue of (Western-imposed) sanctions and this is not surprising considering the economic environment we are living in. The economic environment has deepened their grievances. We also received some mixed signals on the issues of corruption and inflation and how they relate to economic performance,” Dr Kurebwa said.

    The issue of “change”, long viewed as an opposition mainstay, is, in fact, central to the people who support Zanu-PF, as they believe that the ruling party is “advocating for change as embodied in economic empowerment”.

    “Another common factor emerging from the survey is that regardless of their residing in urban, peri-urban or rural areas, people are concerned with the issues of employment creation and food security. The issue of a new constitution is largely an elitist one,” Dr Kurebwa said.

    A number of the people polled indicated they had changed their allegiances since the 2005 parliamentary elections and Dr Kurebwa attributed this to “the wider choice available this time around”.

    The survey was carried out from mid-February to March 15 2008 and was conducted by four-member teams tasked to poll at least 45 people per constituency along gender, age and other demographic lines.

    The survey also included council elections, but the results had not been processed yet because of time constraints.

    Dr Kurebwa said they were also going to conduct an exit poll, during which a survey would be carried out of how people voted as they leave polling stations on Saturday.

    ##

    Netfa

    March 28, 2008 at 7:50 am


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