You can bet your Bob that zom­bie vot­ers will back Mu­gabe

Eye

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WIL­LIAM SAUN­DER­SON–MEYER

ON WED­NES­DAY Zimbabwe goes to the polls. The run-up to the elec­tion has been cu­ri­ously low-key and lack­lus­tre, per­haps be­cause ev­ery­one al­ready knows the re­sult – Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe will win.

Even if he loses, he will win. Such is the fox­i­ness of the world’s third-long­est serv­ing dic­ta­tor, who is shaded in the despot stakes only by the lead­ers of An­gola and Equa­to­rial Guinea, and then by a mere year.

The 89-year-old Mu­gabe has a for­mi­da­ble record for games­man­ship. Star­ring in 33 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons of his own Sur­vivor Africa re­al­ity show, Com­rade Bob has re­peat­edly proved that he can “out­wit, out­play and out­last” any op­po­nent, for­eign or do­mes­tic.

Af­ter los­ing the 2008 elec­tion, he out­wit­ted pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki – de­spite vi­o­lent at­tacks on the op­po­si­tion and ex­ten­sive vote-rig­ging – and en­gi­neered a power- shar­ing agree­ment that left him as pres­i­dent and Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change leader Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai as a vir­tu­ally pow­er­less prime min­is­ter.

He out­played Ts­van­gi­rai over the next five years dur­ing a tor­tu­ous process that was sup­posed to de­liver con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected free­doms and gen­uine democ­racy.

That new con­sti­tu­tion has been en­acted but the se­cu­rity forces still an­swer only to Mu­gabe, the elec­toral process is still con­trolled by his Zanu-PF hench­men, me­dia freedom is still con­strained and the state broad­caster is still un­abashedly his pro­pa­ganda or­gan.

He out­lasted his fiercest in­ter­na­tional crit­ics, var­i­ous lead­ers of the UK, US and the ma­jor Euro­pean pow­ers. It helped that as elected lead­ers th­ese men and women have com­par­a­tively short tenures, while Mu­gabe has had since 1980 to tighten his grip with pop­ulist land seizures and by the ruth­less de­ploy­ment of the state se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus against any op­po­si­tion.

Mu­gabe’s in­ter­na­tional crit­ics have been distracted by press­ing eco­nomic prob­lems at home, and since their “smart” sanc­tions have failed and since they have been ex­cluded by Zimbabwe from any elec­tion-mon­i­tor­ing role, they don’t have any po­lit­i­cal cards left to play.

Roe­land van de Geer, the EU ambassador to South Africa, has lamented the ex­clu­sion of EU mon­i­tors, who he is quoted as say­ing are “tougher” than those from the AU and the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC).

Van de Geer says that if th­ese African ob­servers de­clare the elec­tions “free and fair”, the EU will have to lift all re­main­ing sanc­tions on Mu­gabe’s govern­ment. “Who are we as the EU to say, ‘No, we know bet­ter than SADC’?”

Hu­man Rights Watch has warned that “the chances of hav­ing free, fair and cred­i­ble elec­tions are slim”. But as AfricaFo­cus Bul­letin notes, they may nev­er­the­less be judged “credi- ble enough” by some – in­clud­ing the AU and SADC – for rea­sons of ex­pe­di­ency.

One must hope, then, that SADC has de­vel­oped some back­bone since the 2008 de­ba­cle.

SADC de­clared that elec­tion a “peace­ful and cred­i­ble ex­pres­sion of the will of the Zim­bab­wean peo­ple” im­me­di­ately af­ter the polling booths closed – even though hun­dreds had died vi­o­lently and be­fore the vote count was kept se­cret for more than a month, while Zanu-PF des­per­ately mas­saged the re­sults in or­der to de­prive Ts­van­gi­rai of vic­tory.

This time it seems that Zanu-PF is bet­ter pre­pared against nasty demo­cratic shocks. It has le­gions of “ghost” vot­ers to de­ploy.

An in­de­pen­dent au­dit found that more than a mil­lion peo­ple reg­is­tered as vot­ers are dead, while more than half of the con­stituen­cies have more vot­ers reg­is­tered than the num­ber of in­hab­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to last year’s cen­sus.

Guess who the zom­bie vot­ers will be mak­ing their crosses for on Wed­nes­day.

All this Zanu- PF skul­dug­gery might even not be nec­es­sary. The op­po­si­tion is peren­ni­ally di­vided and an ad­di­tional fac­tor is disen­chant­ment with Ts­van­gi­rai and his party over their role in the gov­ern­ing coali­tion.

As in the tele­vi­sion re­al­ity show, Mu­gabe has shown that to be a sur­vivor, you must keep your friends close but your en­e­mies closer.

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