Zimbabwe’s “Sham” Election


Zimbabwe’s “Sham” Election

July 10, 2008

Amid widespread human rights violations and political violence, Zimbabwe held its run-off presidential election on June 27. Labeled a "sham" by the international community, incumbent Robert Mugabe, the only candidate running, won the election with 85% of the vote. During the tumultuous period leading up to the elections, opposition supporters and organizations faced harassment, intimidation and violence by partisans of the ZANU-PF, Mugabe's party. The country now faces international condemnation amid the ongoing collapse of civil society.

Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)
Incumbent Party
Robert Mugabe, President

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
Opposition Party
Morgan Tsvangirai, President

"Many people just would not vote. With the rise in violence and intimidation, mostly in rural areas, people became despondent. Everyone wants change, but they already voted once and it did not matter," reports an AJWS grantee* in Zimbabwe. Says another source: "Victims were attacked at night, their doors where broken down if they refused to open [them] they were taken outside and beaten with poles or iron rods."

In Zimbabwe's general elections on March 29, opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won a plurality of votes, requiring a run-off election. Ahead of the run-off, political violence against MDC supporters became so widespread that the party's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew from the race, citing the danger for his supporters and aides. According to the MDC, 86 of its supporters were killed and 200,000 displaced ahead of the run-off.

Sources from Zimbabwe report of large-scale post-election violence and retribution, perpetrated by ZANU-PF and its supporters. One AJWS source in Zimbabwe documented over 50 pictures of torture and murder victims, including crushed hands, whipped backs and buttocks and several hangings and stonings. Poor youth from local communities are suspected of instigating much of this violence, having been promised food, money and impunity from looting in exchange for their actions.

"This is a state-planned, militarized operation of retribution and intimidation on the opposition MDC officials, activists, members and supporters," says one Zimbabwean civil society leader. "The situation is worsening by the day.  The stability of the region is in the process of being shattered."

The work of civil society organizations in Zimbabwe is now more important than ever, but many cannot operate in the current climate. Institutions advocating for justice are alleged to be "anti-government" or accused of associating with MDC, and thus face hostility from the government or pro-government thugs. Accusing NGOs (non-governmental organizations) of meddling in politics, in early June the Zimbabwean government suspended the operations of any Zimbabwean NGO that "organizes, mobilizes or brings together large numbers of people."

With 80% unemployment, more than 160,000% inflation (with some estimates as high as 500,000%) and almost two million people infected with HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe cannot afford to lose the important social services that NGOs provide. These dire health and poverty issues, coupled with the current political crisis, means that Zimbabwe is on the verge of becoming a crisis country. AJWS emergency funding is supporting Zimbabwean organizations as they address urgent needs at the community level – food and medical attention, as well as transportation to safe houses or across borders away from violent threats. Ongoing AJWS grantmaking supports local organizations addressing sexual and reproductive health, illiteracy, violence and HIV/AIDS.

American Jewish World Service expresses solidarity with Zimbabweans, and joins the international community in calling for a fair, peaceful and democratic election. Click here to read the full statement of support. Elections that are free from violence and intimidation are an important first step in ensuring that Zimbabwe can move forward from this political, economic and humanitarian disaster.

* Sources from Zimbabwe remain anonymous in this article for security purposes. In addition, AJWS has removed its Zimbabwean grantees from the Web site during this period of tension.