Zimbabwe's election: a battle for democracy and a test for Africa
If Tsvangirai wins despite Mugabe's heavy-handed tactics, it'll be a historic victory.
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Yet the situation is not completely hopeless. Zimbabweans are so fed up with Mugabe's ruinous rule that they may vote overwhelmingly against him and even the most blatant rigging will not be able to mask his loss. That is what happened in the March 29 elections when the conditions were almost as unfair, yet the MDC succeeded in winning control of parliament. Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe, but he did not reach the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff.Skip to next paragraph
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International observers can play a vital role in helping Zimbabweans to vote their choice. Mugabe has tightly restricted these observers, allowing missions only from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and a few other friendly nations.
While the African observers have in the past indulged Mugabe by endorsing flawed elections, they are becoming more critical. Reports of the recent violence have spurred the Africans to double the size of their delegations to this election.
This week, the United Nations sent a high-powered African envoy, Haile Menkerios, to assess the situation. Although special observer missions from the United States, Britain, and other European countries have been barred, their diplomats in Harare can view the polls. The presence of serious observers should force Mugabe's thugs to curtail their violence. This will create a climate of safety and encourage people to vote.
The observers can also see if Mugabe sticks to the transparency of the March 29 elections. All votes were counted in front of observers at the polling stations where they were cast, and the results were publicly posted on the spot. This prevented state agents from fiddling with the votes.
Pressure from fellow Africans and the UN, as well as from the US and Britain, may convince Mugabe that patience with his oppression is wearing thin. He may accede to abide by enough standards of electoral fairness to allow the will of the Zimbabwean people to be registered.
If Tsvangirai wins this election, despite all the unfair advantages Mugabe enjoys, it will be a historic victory for democracy in Zimbabwe and, indeed, for all of Africa.