Election after election in Zimbabwe has been tampered with, producing only the results that the government want to see. Many have lost their faith in democracy.
But with almost a fifth of the population suffering from HIV/AIDS, severe food shortages following sanctions and land redistribution programmes, and a failing economy, Zimbabweans have other things to think about than voting. This apathy, however, may well put out the final “flames of hope for change”, in the forthcoming general elections, scheduled for 31 March.
If Mugabe’s Zanu-PF Party gains a two-thirds majority in parliament, they would be able to change the constitution, something which despite all their efforts, they have not yet been able to achieve.
Their problem with the current constitution is that if Mr Mugabe was to resign or die there would be elections for a new leader, with the possibility of an opposition victory. The constitution would be expected to change to take this into account, allowing Mugabe to elect a successor before anything were to happen to him.
In September 1999 Mugabe suffered his first national election defeat in a referendum on a new constitution. Subsequently, he made things more difficult for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to loosen Mugabe’s grip on power. The parliamentary elections of 2000 and the presidential elections of 2002 have been marred by accusations of violence and electoral fraud.
The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, only recently reversed his pledge to boycott the coming elections. He said that his party was entering the election with a “heavy heart” and was participating under protest. The high probability of a corrupt election has put the party in a difficult position. “If you participate under flawed conditions you are legitimising the process, but if you don’t participate you run the risk of making yourself irrelevant” says Mr Tsvangirai.
Zanu-PF have used a number of methods in the past to secure victory in their elections. These include changing constituency boundaries, so that the areas where the Zanu-PF dominate are greater represented in parliament. Efforts have also been made to disenfranchise the younger voters who tend to sympathise with the MDC. Postal votes in the previous elections were limited to diplomats and members of the armed forces, excluding those who are studying and working abroad, most of whom left to escape Mugabe’s regime.
Most worrying, however, is the use of violence and intimidation against known or suspected members of opposition groups. The Zimbabwe Institute, a think-tank based in South Africa, launched a report detailing the human rights abuses 80% of opposition MPs have suffered. The government has also established youth training camps, which they claim to be for vocational training, intended to instil a sense of national pride. Children who have escaped from the camps, however, have confirmed that they are in fact being used to indoctrinate young people to intimidate and attack government opponents. Amnesty International confirm that the youth trainees have been involved in various crimes.
Following the international damning of the 2002 presidential elections Mugabe has promised to abide by a set of regional democratic guidelines. He has established a national electoral commission but the MDC say they have seen little change on the ground and that there is not enough time for these reforms to become effective before the elections in March. The MDC’s main complaints are that the media remains censored, that free assembly is restricted, that the electoral commission has yet to prove its independence and that international observers continue to be unwelcome despite the government claiming it has nothing to hide. Any major change on these fronts before the elections seems unlikely. “We have not yet reached the stage where the people’s anger with the regime is equal to their fear of it” states one opposition leader, and it seems that until this is the case, political change in Zimbabwe will not be possible.