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  Last Chance for Peace and Democracy as Zimbabwe Violence Threatens

Harare/Brussels, 11 March 2002: Although the result of Zimbabwe’s presidential election is not expected to be announced for another two or three days, all indications are that the victor should be the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai. Pre-election polling, both public and private, indicated overwhelming support for Tsvangirai in the major cities and clear majority support across the country, notwithstanding the extensive and well documented intimidation of opposition supporters – and there is no evidence that mood changed during the polling period.

There is ample further evidence, however, that President Mugabe has been desperate to win by whatever means it takes. Over the last three days ICG personnel visited numerous polling stations with no independent observers or MDC polling agents; interviewed MDC polling agents who had been beaten by ZANU-PF war veterans; witnessed others being threatened by youth militia; talked to voters who had been turned away at the polls because of no proof of residence; observed paltry turnouts at rural stations where the government is claiming massive voting; and spoke with voters who had walked away without voting from huge lines in Harare’s high density suburbs.

Mugabe’s strategy has taken different forms in urban and rural areas. In cities and towns, the government reduced the number of polling stations, leading to huge lines designed to frustrate would-be voters into leaving; required proof of residency during the registration and polling process which thousands of poorer urban dwellers do not have; expelled with no explanation thousands more citizens off the voters’ rolls; and defied a court order by delaying the opening of polls for the unscheduled third day of voting, aimed at further discouraging potential voters.

In rural areas, the government’s tactics have been more extreme. It has beaten and threatened polling agents of the opposition MDC, thus ensuring no presence in nearly half of the polling stations in rural areas, and making it much easier to stuff ballot boxes given the paucity of international and domestic observers; placed youth militia camps in the immediate vicinity of polling stations, designed to further intimidate voters; and in a final guarantee, suddenly doubled the number of registered rural voters through a secret process, the preponderance of whom are in areas considered to be ZANU-PF strongholds.

The critical questions now are whether Tsvangirai, notwithstanding all the government’s efforts, will in fact be declared the winner; whether, if he is, ZANU-PF respects that result; and what will be the popular reaction if Robert Mugabe is seen to be stealing the election.

“The risk of major violence erupting is exceedingly high,” says John Prendergast, Africa Program Co-Director of the International Crisis Group. “Deep resentment combined with economic desperation has created a pressure cooker in parts of Zimbabwe: there is every chance of an explosion if the results are seen to be fixed. And Mugabe’s massive deployment of loosely controlled youth militias and warlord war veterans makes it likely that there will be a bloody reaction to any mass protest or rioting.”

Whether there is a total breakdown of law and order, in any of these scenarios, is likely to depend in the last resort on the Zimbabwean army, an institution that the current government has attempted to politicise and deprofessionalise over the past two years. The government’s new Public Order and Security Act allows its security forces to open fire on demonstrators.

Late as the hour now is, ICG believes that there remains a small window of opportunity for the international community to influence a peaceful outcome:

q South Africa should clearly state that it will not whitewash the results of this election if they are reached illegitimately. The single greatest influence on the calculations of the ZANU-PF inner circle at this point would be the certainty that South Africa will maintain a principled stand.

q South Africa, along with other southern African states, is also best positioned to affect the immediate calculations of the Zimbabwean military. They should deliver a clear message to the military that they expect it to uphold the constitution and the rule of law, to help keep the peace, and to respect the will of the people.

q Other key external actors , particularly the European Union and the United States, should echo this diplomacy both publicly and privately.

q Preparations must begin to totally isolate the ZANU-PF leadership if it clearly steals the election. South Africa and Nigeria should make it clear that the regime will be diplomatically isolated, within SADC, the African Union and the Commonwealth.

q The EU and U.S. should announce that they will widen and deepen their targeted sanctions against the ZANU-PF leadership, extending them to anyone in senior positions involved in fixing the election, or participating in human rights violations after it.

q They should indicate also that this targeted sanctions regime will also extend to those individuals and companies directly and culpably involved in the abuse of the ZANU-PF government’s economic power.

“The critical need is to make it clear right now, to all those potentially involved, that participating in an election steal will not be cost free,” stated ICG’s President Gareth Evans.

This election represents a fork in the road for Africa and its promotion of democracy. The continent is championing its own plan for a future relationship with the international community, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), which is based on principles of good governance and African peer pressure. Zimbabwe is the test case for this fledgling approach, and will signal to the international community whether the continent is indeed serious about fulfilling its own pledges. The elections are also a test of SADC’s political will, as Zimbabwe broke all its pledges to that regional organisation.

If the ZANU-PF government steals the election, there are no good policy options facing Zimbabwe’s regional neighbours or the wider international community. If major violence breaks out – causing or threatening loss of life on a large scale – it will not be possible to avoid considering the question of military intervention. The day or so remaining before the results are declared represents the last best chance to avert a massive crisis.


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