Could Zimbabwe vote oust Mugabe?
Zimbabweans head to the polls Saturday amid suspicion that President Robert Mugabe may rig the election to award himself yet another term.
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Ethnic repression against the Zulu-speaking Ndibele tribes here killed at least 20,000 in the mid-1980s – a sign of just how far Mr. Mugabe would go to hold onto power.
Small wonder then that the people of Matabeleland – and especially in the quiet regional capital, Bulawayo – view Saturday's presidential elections with a mix of hope and realism, and the knowledge that Mugabe will not go without a fight.
"If Mugabe wins, we'll have economic disaster in Zimbabwe, complete disaster," says Gordon Moyo, director of Bulawayo Agenda, a democracy-building nonprofit in Bulawayo.
"If [former finance minister Simba Makoni] wins, we'll have unrest, because Mugabe will fight. Either way, civil society should continue to press for our rights, and join hands with other democratic forces to make sure this government is delegitimized. Democracy is not final until it respects the will of the people," he says.
Zimbabwe has never been so close to economic collapse – and oddly, to political renewal – as it will be this month. An inflation rate of 100,000 percent, the result of socialist land redistribution, mismanagement, corruption, and the withdrawal of Western financial support, has created unspeakable hardship for the Zimbabwean people.
But hardship has also hardened the feelings of many Zimbabweans that the time has come for a change in leadership. The question now is how Mugabe's own party, the ZANU-PF – which controls the Army, police, the intelligence services, the election commission, and nearly all news media outlets – will respond to the public mood.
"What the history of Zimbabwe shows us is that the voice of the people is not necessarily as important as the part played by the elites," says Chris Maroleng, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, South Africa. "If any change is to occur, it will not be a regime change, it will be a regime reconstitution, with the ruling elite from the ZANU-PF giving consent for Mugabe to be replaced. We may be seeing this occur."
With three major candidates running for president – including Mr. Makoni, perennial opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, and Mugabe – some analysts say that the election is likely to go to a runoff, since no one candidate will be able to secure the 51 percent of the vote required for an outright victory. Of course, this scenario presumes that Saturday's vote will be free and fair.
There are few signs of that. Several foreign election monitoring missions have been denied accreditation, and George Charamba, the spokesman for the Ministry of Information has publicly announced that they would scrutinize any request for accreditation by any foreign journalists, sifting out those from "hostile" Western countries such as the US and Britain.