Thursday, March 31, 2005

Hunger makes for good politics in Mugabeland

A legislative electoral farce is taking place in Zimbabwe today. Most outside observers have said the election won't be free and fair. Some denounce this saying "Let's wait and see how election day and the counting go." However, this attitude is wrong headed. An election campaign is not fought solely on election day and in days after. So it's myopic to determine an election's fairness solely based on what happens on election day.

Even if the ruling regime of dictator Robert Mugabe (which runs the elections) doesn't engage in massive overt vote rigging, it will be extremely difficult for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to win. And this is not because Mugabe's ZANU-PF party is widely popular. Widespread political violence and intimidation usually doesn't help a ruling party's popularity, as does economic disaster and widespread hunger. Despite Mugabe's open contempt for the international community and use of foreigners as a scapegoat to distract the public's attention from the catastrophic domestic situation, the UN's World Food Program provided aid to 4.5 million Zimbabweans in 2004... over 35% of the population. That in a country that used to be the bread basket of southern Africa before Mugabe implemented disastrous policies to shore up his ailing political fortunes.

But the real enemy isn't hunger or inflation or repression of domestic opponents. It's British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's responsible for all of Zimbabwe's ills, according to Mugabe. And since the opposition MDC is controlled by Blair, according to Mugabe's propaganda, they are evil too.

The election almost certainly won't be fair because, the MDC and outside observers claim:

-State-controlled radio and television, which have a monopoly, favour Zanu-PF;

-Until recently, they were often refused permission to hold rallies and their activists harassed;

-Food aid has been denied to opposition supporters, they say;

-Constituency boundaries have been changed to favour the ruling party.


Though admittedly many American states engage in the last of those trickeries.

Additionally, Zimbabweans living out of the country can not vote in the election unless they are soldiers are diplomats. In other words, those most likely to support Mugabe or be involved in his regime can vote. But those who've fled the country for economic and/or political reasons, the ones least likely to appreciate the regime, can not vote. Very convenient.

Furthermore, the parliament is rigged in favor of Mugabe's regime. The thug-in-chief gets to appoint 30 members of the 150 seat parliament. So for the opposition to gain a majority, they have to win 76 out of the 120 contested seats. They have to win a whopping 63.3%.of the contested seats in spite all the handicaps listed above and in spite of any ballot box stuffing, vote rigging or other chicanery that might occur.

Zimbabwe's future is bleak. Some hope that a Georgian or Ukranian or Serbian style popular uprising might topple the dictatorship... something called for last week by the Catholic archbishop of the southern city of Bulawayo. However, Mugabe's scapegoating of Tony Blair still resonates in many rural parts of the country. And, quite frankly, popular uprisings take a lot of energy and determination. People on the verge of hunger quite understandably focus their energies on the most basic needs.

Hunger does indeed make for good politics in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

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