A clear victory

Published : May 06, 2005 00:00 IST

President Robert Mugabe raises his clenched fist in the customary salute of the ruling party at an election rally in Gutu, a town 220 km southeast of the capital Harare. - HOWARD BURDITT/REUTERS

President Robert Mugabe raises his clenched fist in the customary salute of the ruling party at an election rally in Gutu, a town 220 km southeast of the capital Harare. - HOWARD BURDITT/REUTERS

President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF returns to power in Zimbabwe by winning a round of elections certified by international observers as free and fair but criticised by the West.

THE sweeping victory of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in the Zimbabwean parliamentary elections held on March 31 did not come as a surprise. The Zanu-PF won a two-thirds majority and 59 per cent of the votes polled. In the parliamentary elections held five years ago, it received 49 per cent of the votes polled. The party made inroads into many strongholds of the main Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC is now mainly confined to its bases in the major cities. International election observers, belonging to the African Union (A.U.) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), certified that the elections were free and fair. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (ZEC) had permitted more than 700 local and international observers and 500 media personnel to observe the elections.

The results, of course, disappointed British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States President George W. Bush. Both the British and U.S. governments were quick to issue statements condemning the conduct of the elections. The U.S. Embassy in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, issued a statement criticising the poll outcome. The statement went to the extent of asserting that about 30 per cent of the voters were not allowed to cast their ballots - a claim supported not even by the rabidly anti-Mugabe British media. The Embassy reached the conclusion on the basis of reports filed by 20 of its staffers.

The MDC earlier issued a statement alleging "massive electoral fraud by the ruling party". British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that evidence of fraud was "rife" and claimed that he was "surprised and saddened" that Zimbabwe's neighbours had chosen to declare the elections fair and free.

It was the Zanu-PF's determination to expropriate prime agricultural land from the white settler community that triggered the West's moves to quarantine diplomatically and economically the country's government. There were concerted efforts, coordinated from London, to destabilise the Zanu-PF government and install a puppet regime in Harare. The white landowners, against whom Mugabe had led a long and bloody liberation struggle, had until recently controlled more than 70 per cent of the land though they constituted only 1 per cent of the country's population.

The meddling of Western leaders, especially Blair, in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe had become an emotive issue with the voters as they went to the polls. At almost every major campaign rally, the 81-year-old but still feisty Mugabe told voters that Blair was on a mission to re-colonise Zimbabwe. The choice in the elections was actually between him and the British Prime Minister, the President said. Mugabe was the first to call Tony Blair a "liar". Subsequent events, linked to the invasion of Iraq, proved that the British Premier was not honest with his people or even with his own colleagues.

Since the announcement of the results, the British media and government have gone to extraordinary lengths to demonise Mugabe, who defied a European Union (E.U.) travel ban, imposed on Blair's initiative, to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and taken the initiative to shake hands with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. The Prince was immediately criticised by the British media. The spokesperson for the Prince said that Mugabe had suddenly thrust his hand forward taking him by "surprise". At the end of the funeral service for the Pope, the Cardinals had asked the world leaders present to shake and hold hands as a gesture of peace and goodwill among mankind.

In 2004, Jack Straw was pictured shaking hands with Mugabe during an international meet at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In response to the media criticism that erupted, Straw said that he did not recognise the Zimbabwean President as the hall in which they met was not well lit.

THE Mozambican Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Isabel Nkavadeka, who was in Zimbabwe during the elections, said the Western countries should listen to the election observers of the region. "Pre-judgements have no merit," he said. He said that the statements made by the U.S. and its allies were a case of "sour grapes". He added: "The fact that the elections were peaceful makes them unhappy."

In early April, South African President Thabo Mbeki criticised the West for focussing exclusively on Zimbabwe while ignoring the bigger crisis affecting the African continent. He was addressing a meeting of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in Durban in South Africa. Mbeki pointed out that about one thousand people died daily owing to hunger and disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). More than 3.8 million people have died in the country since the civil war began in 1998. "But the amount of noise you will hear about Zimbabwe, and no noise about the Congo, must surely raise questions as to why," he said. Mbeki also referred to the civil war in Burundi, which has so far claimed the lives of 300,000 people. He noted that the situation in Burundi had not been spoken about in the West.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngueka, the chief of the SADC observer mission, which sent the largest contingent of observers, said the elections were conducted in an open, transparent and professional manner. "The people of Zimbabwe have expressed their will in an impressively instructive manner that will go a long way in contributing to the consolidation of democracy and political stability not only in Zimbabwe but also in the region as a whole," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngueka, who is the South African Minister for Energy and Minerals. She added that the A.U. observer mission and the observer teams from Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) too had reached the same conclusion. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngueka said the Zimbabwean institutions that supervised the elections were run by competent professionals. She emphasised that the country's electoral system measured up to regional and international standards. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngueka said: "I don't think that we should have different standards for Zimbabwe. The SADC mission had 55 observers who were deployed in all parts of the country."

The Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF) of SADC countries concluded that the elections were free and fair. Its chairperson, Victor Tonchi, who is the head of the Namibian Electoral Commission, said that his team was encouraged by the peaceful environment in which the elections were held and the high level of compliance with rules and regulations displayed by the election officials. Even the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), known to be sympathetic to the Opposition, said in a statement that despite "unfair" legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act, the elections were held in a "calm" and "peaceful environment" and that the "citizens had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and were free to do so".

In keeping with the SADC's Electoral Principles and Guidelines adopted by the heads of the state of southern African countries in Mauritius in August 2004, the ZEC limited polling to a single day, increased the number of polling stations and used translucent ballot boxes. The votes were counted at the polling stations to eliminate the possibility of tampering with the ballots. The list of the polling stations and their locations was made available to the media well before the voting.

After the results were declared, President Mugabe tried to reach out to the Opposition. He asked it to accept gracefully the outcome and work with the Zanu-PF for the greater good of the nation. The MDC rebuffed the overtures. It planned to take to the streets to protest against a "stolen election".

The deep political divide that has characterised Zimbabwe's politics since the late 1990s has affected initiatives to revive the collapsing economy. Many Zimbabweans have voted with their feet, choosing to work in neighbouring countries, especially South Africa. The international financial institutions and the white settlers, who have chosen to stay back, have not helped matters.

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