Zimbabwe once again goes to the polls to elect a new president – the BBC reports.
Polling stations have closed in Zimbabwe, ending voting in elections that will decide whether President Robert Mugabe wins a sixth term. His challengers are Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC party and ex-finance minister and independent Simba Makoni.
Queues formed early, but voting died down later in the day. Some voters complained of irregularities. The MDC feared the poll would be rigged but Mr Mugabe said as he cast his vote in Harare: “We don’t rig elections.”
No, the Zanu-PF doesn’t rig elections – it just stuffs the electoral roll with the names of dead people and prints 50% more ballot papers than there are voters (nothing suspicious with that, is there?).
Let’s be honest. As the Economist says, if the election was free and fair Mugabe would have no real prospect of success. And even with his ability to manipulate the electoral commission, use Police to intimidate voters, etc, Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and the resulting unpopularity makes it difficult for him to claim a victory in the first round. So the question is, will there be enough pressure on him to bow out when inevitably he loses after a second vote, instead of simply declaring himself the winner?
Once again, it may fall to SADC (Southern African Development Community) to take Mugabe to task. For too long it has tolerated his barbaric behaviour simply because he used to be an independence fighter and is still “popular”. Africa often complains that the rest of the world does not take it seriously. Well how can it take Africa seriously if such obvious electoral fraud as has happened in the past is swept under the carpet and elections are declared “free & fair”? SADC members generally opposed Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations, even though the motion was still carried by the majority (most of whom can hardly be described as members of the “white man’s conspiracy”).
It would be wrong to write off a whole continent due to the actions of one region, but it is true that the inaction of Zimbabwe’s neighbours (especially South Africa) over Mugabe’s reign of terror has damaged African states’ hopes of being treated like serious international players rather than aid-reliant basket-cases.
If Mugabe tries to steal the election again, as he almost certainly will, the rest of Africa must take the opportunity to pressure the old man’s reluctant neighbours into condemning the vote and insist that the second round really is free and fair. If it refuses out of historical prejudice and racism, then Africa’s diplomatic underperformance will continue for years to come.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.