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Familiar faces, fears as Zimbabwe votes in key poll

Video by Luke BROWN

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-07-31

Zimbabwe goes to the polls on Wednesday in the first election since the violently contested 2008 vote. President Robert Mugabe once again faces off against Morgan Tsvangirai amid fresh fears of another post-electoral crisis.

Five years after the violent and disputed 2008 elections, Zimbabwe goes to the polls on Wednesday in a vote featuring the same presidential frontrunners amid fresh fears of another post-electoral crisis.

More than 6 million registered voters are set to elect a president, parliament and district councils in this southern African nation of over 13 million people.

But the real race - one that is being carefully watched, if not officially monitored – by the international community, is the electoral faceoff between President Robert Mugabe and his arch-rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

At 89, Mugabe, the leader of the ZANU-PF party, is seeking to extend his 33 years in power as Africa's oldest leader.

Tsvangirai, 61, the leader of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party, is considered the president’s only credible challenger though there are two other presidential candidates in the race.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been in an uneasy, power-sharing government, which has succeeded in stabilising an economy in freefall and ending hyperinflation. But the alliance has been fraught with mutual suspicions that have only risen in the runup to Wednesday’s vote.

In a letter published on Monday in the domestic News Day newspaper and the Washington Post, Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of “attempting to steal Zimbabwe’s most important election”.

The former trade union leader went on to note that, “Mugabe is the world’s oldest leader and one of its longest-ruling dictators. He is fixing this election in a more sophisticated fashion than previous ZANU-PF campaigns of beatings, killings and intimidation.”

Mugabe however has denied the allegations. At a rare press briefing in the capital of Harare on the eve of the elections, the Zimbabwean president insisted that, “We have done no cheating.”

The incumbent president also vowed to step down if he loses the election. “If you lose, you must surrender,” said Mugabe, who has been in power since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.

A new constitution, an alliance that held

But while the candidates and their discourses sound familiar, there have been notable changes in this southern African nation over the past five years.

A closer look at Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai

Wednesday’s elections are the country’s first under a new constitution which limits all future presidents to two five-year terms. The constitution was approved in a March referendum, which was conducted relatively peacefully.

Defying the international community’s worst fears, the power-sharing alliance held together for an entire term and MDC officials are quick to take credit for Zimbabwe’s relative economic revival over the past few years.

The 2013 campaign has been marked by serious allegations of rigging registration lists and complaints that ZANU-PF had pushed ahead with the election date, leaving the MDC with little preparation time. But there have been no violent incidents on the campaign trail.

On Facebook, ‘Baba Jukwa’ turns Zimbabwean ‘Deep Throat’

While broadcast and print media are still tightly controlled by the state, the Internet has opened a new frontier - if only for the relatively affluent urban sections of the population.

The Baba Jukwa (or “Father of Jukwa”) Facebook account was launched in March by an anonymous figure – or figures.

The 2013 campaign season was considerably enlivened by a Facebook account that has leaked reports of the inner workings of the Zimbabwean government ranging from corruption allegations to salacious gossip about the candidates’ personal lives.

The Baba Jukwa (or “Father of Jukwa”) Facebook account was launched in March by an anonymous figure – or figures – and at last count had more than 300,000 followers. Many experts believe the actual number of people following the site might be higher since many Zimbabweans are reluctant to publicly follow the ZANU-PF “Deep Throat”.

The insider information – including leaked reports, emails and phone numbers – provided by the site have led some analysts to speculate that “Baba Jukwa” is either a high-ranking ZANU-PF official or has access to one.

In a posting on the eve of the elections, “Baba Jukwa” wrote: “Zimbabwe tomorrow, let’s not be emotional and spoil papers, but let’s vote team Tsvangirai and send every evil people away including all their projects.” [sic] The posting ended with practical voting tips in MDC strongholds amid widespread vote-rigging fears.

‘ZANU doesn’t lose elections’

Despite the social media revelations and the violence-free campaign, many analysts believe Wednesday’s vote may not bring meaningful change to Zimbabwe.

Mugabe remains popular in the rural areas and in the absence of reliable opinion polls, it is hard to predict if Tsvangirai will succeed in his third attempt to unseat Mugabe.

The biggest question looming over Wednesday’s vote is whether the loser will accept the results of the vote.

Given the problems that have dogged the process, many analysts and ordinary Zimbabweans expect a fraught post-election period that could see contestations in the courts and possibly trouble on the streets.

Western election observers have been barred, leaving the task of independent oversight to 500 regional and 7,000 domestic monitors. In a Washington Post column, Tsvangirai urged African monitors not to approve the vote just because they want to avoid bloodshed.

"Mugabe's election-stealing antics have been documented throughout Zimbabwe and beyond,” noted Tsvangirai. “Yet the international community seems apathetic; perhaps Mugabe has been stealing elections for so long the world just rolls its eyes and moves on."

In a report published Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group noted that, “Many expect a Mugabe victory, because ‘ZANU doesn’t lose elections’, and even if outvoted, as in the first round in 2008, its hardliners would not give up power.”

If the July 31 presidential vote does not produce an outright winner, a run-off must be held on September 11.

Technically, under the new constitution, Zimbabwe’s octogenarian president can run for two five-year terms, which could mean that Mugabe can legally remain in office until 2023 when he'll be the ripe old age of 99.

Date created : 2013-07-30


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