As Election Results Stall, a Nation on the Verge


As Election Results Stall, a Nation on the Verge

April 11, 2008

Zimbabweans took to the polls on March 29 to elect a new president, but the winner has yet to be announced. Incumbent Robert Mugabe and his ruling party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) were pitted against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his party, MDC (Movement for Democratic Change). More than two weeks since the election, the country's electoral commission, with the solid backing of the Zimbabwe High Court, is still refusing to release the results. The MDC has now called for a general strike on April 15, while ZANU-PF is asking for a vote recount in 23 constituencies.

The unreleased results are presumed to be a stall tactic while ZANU-PF strategizes about how to reclaim power. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a group that employed 8,000 observers on election day, declared Tsvangirai the winner, with 49% of the vote to Mugabe's 42%. ZANU-PF has already lost its majority in the House of Assembly to MDC. Tsvangirai – who would most certainly get support from those who voted for the third place candidate, Simba Makoni – has stated his refusal to participate in a runoff, given that MDC most likely won the election outright.

While Zimbabwe waits, violence – allegedly instigated by Mugabe - is spreading across the country, where an estimated 1,500 people have been killed. Party militants are reportedly using intimidation, harassment and aggression to threaten voters who support the opposition. Reports of violence in rural areas include the torching of homes and the invasion of white-owned farms; in cities, opposition supporters are being arrested, beaten and kidnapped. The government has banned all political rallies in Harare, the capital, and arrested Tsvangirai's lawyer on April 11.

ZANU-PF has been the ruling political party in Zimbabwe since the country's independence from Britain in 1980. Robert Mugabe, 84, has led the party, and by extension the nation, since its ascent to power, first as Prime Minister and then as President. In 2000, Mugabe implemented a land redistribution program, designed to reallocate commercial farms owned by white Zimbabweans to poor black Zimbabweans. Instead, the land went primarily to ZANU-PF party leaders, family and friends. The land redistribution ruined Zimbabwe's agriculture and, subsequently, its economy. Coupled with programs such as Operation Murambatsvina ("Drive Out Trash"), which destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 700,000 people who were forcibly cleared from slum communities, governmental policies have resulted in a nation-wide humanitarian crisis.

Accused of "deafening silence" in the wake of the election emergency, a regional bloc of 14 southern African states convened over the weekend to discuss the crisis. Speaking for 12 consecutive hours, the bloc formally announced on Sunday that it urged Zimbabwe's government to allow the opposition to be present as votes are tallied. In addition, the leaders encouraged the Zimbabwean government to allow a run-off, should it be necessary, to happen in a "secure environment."

However, some of the region's most powerful leaders are supporting Mugabe. South Africa is the country with the most influence on Zimbabwe; last week, South African President Thabo Mbeki claimed the situation in Zimbabwe was "manageable" and required no assistance from the international community. However, South Africa's governing party leader, Jacob Zuma, offered a different opinion, criticizing the delay and stating that results should be released immediately.

Zimbabwe is one of Africa's most unstable nations. A humanitarian crisis has been worsening for years, with 80 percent unemployment, 100,000 percent inflation and food shortages affecting four million people. Zimbabweans have the lowest life expectancy in the world (34 for women, 37 for men), with over 2,000 deaths from AIDS each week. The lack of water, medicine and electricity has amplified the magnitude of this crisis.

The ongoing deterioration of living standards and the crackdown on communities makes grassroots efforts particularly difficult in Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, AJWS supports local partners with local NGOs who are working to improve life in the country. AJWS makes a concerted effort to reach rural communities, particularly where sidelined ethnic minorities are concentrated. Learn more about AJWS' work in Zimbabwe.