Why Zimbabwe Is Not Ukraine

A world away from the White House, where President Bush Monday received the celebrated leader of Ukraine's "orange revolution," a democratic reform party in Africa faces a decidedly grimmer situation.

As in Ukraine in 2004, Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has just emerged as the loser in what, to any objective observer, must be considered a rigged election.

Africa, a continent slowly climbing the democracy ladder, could use a Ukraine-like boost. Yet, apart from the predetermined election and the yearnings of a suppressed people, the ingredients that allowed peaceful, democratic change in Ukraine are largely absent in Zimbabwe.

Viktor Yushchenko, who suffered near-fatal dioxin poisoning in his campaign to unseat Ukraine's corrupt and authoritarian president, had the support of masses of protesters. But those were healthy, well-fed masses. In Zimbabwe, half the country is on the verge of acute hunger, and the official HIV infection rate is 27 percent.

Mr. Yushchenko also had the backing of key institutions. The judiciary ruled in favor of a new election, and Ukraine's security forces refused to turn their guns on fellow citizens.

Zimbabwe's courts have yet to take up the opposition's legal challenges to the 2002 election, and its leader has been quite willing to allow violence against the opposition. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has been given a whitewash by election monitors and neighbors.

On Sunday, Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, demanded new, fair parliamentary elections. But he didn't say how this should happen. Can anyone blame him? President Bush frequently cites Ukraine as an example for the world. But for Zimbabwe, democratic change is not as easy as Ukraine made it look.

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