Zimbabwe campaign starts amid concern over electoral reforms
By Tony Hawkins in Harare and Andrew England in Johannesburg
After weeks of wrangling over the date of Zimbabwe’s presidential elections,
parties have finally started to campaign amid lingering concern over ghost
voters, electoral reforms and how the country will finance the polls.
“We are faced with an election without reforms and against a leopard that
has remained faithful to its spots,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister
and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, as he launched his
campaign on Sunday. His criticism was aimed at Robert Mugabe, the veteran
president and his Zanu-PF party, both of whom have been in power since
independence in 1980.
The July 31 election is seen as an important test of whether the country can
move forward on a more stable path, and in doing so attract desperately
needed investment, or whether it will return to the violence and chaos that
has characterised other polls over the past decade.
At Sunday’s launch, Mr Tsvangirai said he was going into the election – his
third against Mr Mugabe – with a “heavy heart” after he failed in his
attempts to get the election date put back until further reforms were
Mr Mugabe, 89, who still garners support from many Zanu-PF supporters
because of his credentials as a veteran liberation fighter and his longevity
at the helm, used his presidential powers to bypass parliament last month
and set the poll date for the end of this month.
Opposition parties, as well as the Southern African Development Community, a
regional body, argued that more time was needed to prepare logistically for
the vote and ensure reforms were implemented to enable a fairer election to
But the Constitutional Court stuck to the date, setting the scene for
another election whose credibility is being questioned before the first
ballot is cast. “What we have witnessed in the past few weeks is a concerted
effort designed to rob the election of legitimacy,” Mr Tsvangirai said,
while also championing his party’s chance of victory.
The Research and Advocacy Unit, a non-government agency, said that, as of
June 1, 5.87m voters were registered, of whom “well over one million” were
either dead or had left the country, which has a population of about 14
million. It also estimated that almost 2m potential voters under 30 years
had not registered.
The figures are deemed important because Mr Tsvangirai is seen as more
likely to appeal to younger voters, while Zanu-PF has been widely accused of
vote rigging at previous elections and some are concerned that it will seek
to take advantage of “ghost voters”. Voter registration is set to close on
Wednesday. “The ground is not level,” said Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst
with the International Crisis Group. The extent of voter manipulation makes
an MDC victory implausible, he said.
The last election in 2008 was characterised by violence and allegations of
rigging and intimidation against Zanu-PF. Mr Mugabe lost the first round of
that presidential poll, garnering 43 per cent of the vote to Mr Tsvangirai’s
48 per cent. But a run-off was aborted primarily because of election-related
violence blamed on Zanu-PF.
A measure of stability was restored after the MDC agreed to join Zanu-PF in
a unity government in February 2009. The economy, which had been in a state
of collapse for almost a decade, was also boosted when Zimbabwe adopted the
US dollar as its currency.
But the unity government has largely been dysfunctional with Mr Mugabe
continuing to dominate the political stage, while the MDC has been
criticised for not using its position in the administration to effect more
A new constitution was adopted earlier this year, but other reforms related
to the elections have not been pushed through. And while the economy
initially rebounded from a perilously low base, its recovery has been
fragile and the government has remained strapped for cash.
The administration needs $132m to fund the vote and, on Monday, Tendai Biti,
the finance minister and a senior member of the MDC, said he had “frozen”
government spending to pay for the process. “We are not paying ministers, we
are not paying service providers . . . we can only afford to pay salaries,”
Mr Mugabe, meanwhile, has given conflicting comments on whether Zimbabwe
will retain the US dollar as its currency. Its introduction was important in
countering hyperinflation as the economy fell into chaos after Zanu-PF
implemented a land reform programme and the country became a pariah.
In recent days, he has twice gone off message, calling on Friday for a
return to the Zimbabwean dollar. He backtracked 24 hours later, saying this
would not happen immediately and adding that the next local currency would
be backed by the country’s “huge” gold deposits. This suggestion was
dismissed as “undiluted rubbish” by Mr Biti, finance minister.
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