Monday, March 28, 2005

Zimbabwe Election Scheduled for March 31... *Edited*

Zimbabwe, which has been ruled by marxist President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party for the last 25 years, is marching towards another election at the end of this month. Now, it would seem that President Mugabe must be very popular to keep winning all these elections for so long, but Nicholas Kristof relates a different story in his New York Times article from March 23 where he quotes several citizens of Zimbabwe wishing for a return of the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970s.

I wouldn't (yet) equate President Mugabe to a Saddam Hussein or a Kim Jong Il, but we are clearly seeing a descension rather than an ascension in political freedom and accountability in Zimbabwe. My disagreement with a comment from Kristof's editorial provides an example of the growing problem with President Mugabe.

The West has often focused its outrage at Mr. Mugabe's seizure of farms from white landowners, but that is tribalism on our part. The greatest suffering by far is among black Zimbabweans.

The objections to Mugabe's siezure of farms from white land owners were based on more consequential reasons than mere tribalism. After Zimbabwean voters rejected a constitutional referendum in February 2000 that would have expanded Mugabe’s powers and allowed the government to seize white-owned farms without compensation, ZANU-PF veterans of the revolution began unlawfully seizing the land. In addition to plunging the Zimbabwean democracy further towards despotism, the farms taken from white land owners were often awarded to political cronies and party enforcers instead of qualified and capable farmers. This resulted in a tremendous loss of productions which, compounded by recent years of drought, is directly responsible for the suffering among black Zimbabweans mentioned by Kristof.

Enter the opposition. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has an uphill battle for progress in these elections, even despite some concessions on access to the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company (ZBC) for political advertising. The MDC currently hold 57 of the 150 seats in the parliament. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party holds 62 seats and the ZANU-Ndonga party holds one seat. On top of those 120 seats open to popular election, the President (Mugabe) fills 30 additional seats with ZANU-PF party allies. The President can use these 30 seats to keep any popularly elected ZANU-PF members of parliament (MP) with centrist tendancies from siding with the opposition. So, these 30 guaranteed parliamentary seats keep popularly elected MPs in line with the President while promoting voter apathy.

In order to have significant impact on legislation, the MDC would have to successfully defend all 57 of its seats and win another 19 seats currently held by ZANU-PF members in an electoral environment highly resistant to openness or fairness. That would give MDC a simple majority in the Zimbabwe Parliament. On the other hand, if the ZANU-PF can defend their 62 seats and win eight of the seats currently held by MDC members, that would give them a two-thirds super majority and the power to rubber stamp changes to the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

I think this is important for the United States because this is precisely the type of nation that could have tremendous positive impact on its African neighbors with the right leadership. Jacques Chirac's handshake notwithstanding, I think Robert Mugabe is not that leader. Africa is featured prominantly in the National Security Strategy and potentially great nations like Zimbabwe could be turned into potentially great problems for the United States down the line.

HAT TIP: Thanks to Munoda for the clarification on the ten seats held by the traditional chiefs. He says they are loyal to the President of Zimbabwe, so they will be ZANU-PF.

UPDATE: Munoda offers another correction:

"I just want to explain that since the last elections, a few Members of Parliament have died and new elections held. ZanuPf has uncreased its tally to 65 while that of MDC declined to 54 because MDC lost some and boycotted some elections last year.

The major problem with the elections seems to be the Voters Roll.MDC believes that there are ghost voters on the roll which will be used to rig the elections.See article on how elections will be rigged on http://www.zwnews.com/."

EXTRAS: New Zimbabwe Internet Forums, Sokwanale Blog

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