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Mugabe’s last stand

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will next Wednesday make his last stand as he seeks re-election in what is almost certainly going to be the last electoral battle of his long political career spanning over 50 years, signifying a possible end to an era.

Faith Zaba/Owen Gagare

In a bid to ensure political survival, Mugabe, who is 89 and frail, has gone for broke and thrown everything into the campaign –– including his wife Grace –– to avoid a humiliating defeat in the sunset of his political career.

However, if next week’s elections were really free and fair, Mugabe would most likely be packed off to his luxurious Borrowdale retirement mansion in Harare, but he seems determined to stay put by fair means or foul. After 33 years in power, Mugabe is labouring on the campaign trail with effects of old age and frailty now subtly starting to show.

But Mugabe –– who has promised an election “fight for our lives” –– is still fighting dirty as if he a character in a Kung Fu movie even though he has renounced violence, intimidation and para-military tactics as campaign tools.

Further evidence he is pulling out all the stops to win mounted this week as it emerged his loyalists are now using the police to serialise ballots, adding to several already exposed election preparation scandals, in a move that is likely to spark outrage just a few days before polling day.

Police were also reportedly printing ballots. Senior government officials told the Zimbabwe Independent this week police’s controversial involvement in ballot printing and inserting of serial numbers may well be unconstitutional and unlawful.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is legally in charge of the whole electoral process even if the Registrar General’s office registers voters under its supervision. The involvement of the police and Israeli intelligence firm, Nikuv International Projects in election preparations has raised eyebrows.

Alarmed by the chaos engulfing electoral preparations, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will this morning hold a press conference to brief journalists and tackle the situation. Although Tsvangirai told the Independent in an exclusive interview this week he is confident of winning, he also expressed concern about the chaotic arrangements.

Senior police officers told the Independent this week that after companies contracted to print ballot papers, Fidelity Printers and Printflow, failed to deliver during the chaotic special voting process, Zec hired the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s printing unit to assist.

This followed a letter of complaint from Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri after thousands of police officers failed to vote on July 14 and 15 due to the unavailability of ballot papers.

Members of the uniformed forces and election officials who failed to cast their votes during special vote may cast their ballots on Wednesday if the Constitutional Court rules in favour of Zec today.

According to Zec, only 37 108 managed to while 26 160 others failed.
Although some sources said police were involved in the printing of ballots, Zec chairperson Rita Makarau yesterday said they were only subcontracted by Printflow to put serial numbers on the ballot papers.

Makarau said Printflow printed ballot papers for the presidential, National Assembly and local government elections before hiring police to insert serial numbers. “After printing, Printflow subcontracted the numbering (putting of serial numbers) of the ballot papers to the police and that’s what they did,” said Makarau. “We have to bear in mind that it was a cumbersome task as we are talking about 1 958 wards in 210 constituencies. All the ballot papers were returned to Printflow after numbering.”

There are 6,4 million registered voters in Zimbabwe although Zec says it will print eight million ballots. Tsvangirai and other candidates say this is “suspicious”.

Makarau, however, refused to deal with the controversial Nikuv issue, referring all questions Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede and the Home Affairs ministry as Zec had not played a role in the hiring of the shadowy company.

“I would want to believe that Nikuv was hired before the commission came in place. We have therefore referred the queries to the Registrar-General (RG)’s office and the Ministry of Home Affairs because they are the ones who engaged them,” Makarau said.

Mugabe’s arsenal for the election includes deployment of the military, rigid control of the RG’s office and Zec –– the cogs in the electoral machinery –– as well as a grip on the judiciary and state media. Judges are key in determining the outcome as their interventions are decisive.

Funding for the Mugabe campaign has been linked to cash injections from China, Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Harare claims owes it US$1 billion accrued during its war a decade ago, and local diamond mining sources.

Security forces, whose commanders are fiercely loyal to Mugabe and have vowed to back him to the hilt, are playing a critical.

However, the campaign is not all the smooth for Mugabe. Age is clearly catching up with him as shown by memory lapses and growing amnesia. He sometimes draws a total blank while speaking. His trademark walkabout has been dropped in favour of a wave to supporters from the back of van and as he addresses rallies, haranguing and lampooning his opponents, his elbows will be firmly leaning heavily on a podium for support.

This stands in contrast to a man who a few years ago used to climbed several steps rushing onto a flight with confidence and ease. Although Mugabe on the surface appears vibrant and puffed up on his campaign posters –– sometimes his party now uses his pictures when he was relatively young to counter Tsvangirai’s persistent punch line that Mugabe is too old and wants to retire ––his slow step and sluggishness in speech tell a different story.

This all combine to fuel speculation that his shuttles to Singapore were indeed driven by health problems. Reports say he is suffering from prostate cancer which has metastasised even though he claims the problem is eye cataracts.

After running down the country and fuelling a groundswell of discontent, Mugabe has been surviving election defeats since 2000 when Zanu PF narrowly survived by winning 62 seats to MDC-T’s 57. Zanu Ndonga won the remaining seat.

In 2002, Mugabe faced what looked like sure defeat when Tsvangirai rode on a wave of popular support amid economic collapse and runaway inflation but he again survived despite that the result was hotly contested.

His victory accelerated economic decline and by 2008 Zimbabwe was on the brink as the political and economic meltdown –– characterised by immeasurable hyperinflation –– ravaged the country. As a result, Mugabe for the first time ever lost the first round of the March 2008 presidential election before resorting to a campaign of brutality to storm back to power.

Tsvangirai had defeated Mugabe by a huge margin of 115 832 votes after the MDC-T leader got 1 195 562 votes and the Zanu PF supremo secured 1 079 730. This was despite Mugabe winning in six of the 10 provinces. Tsvangirai had won by wide margins in his strongholds.

However, Mugabe’s June 2008 presidential election runoff win was a pyrrhic victory as he was later forced into negotiations with the MDC parties, leading to the formation of the coalition government which effectively ends next week paving way for a decisive battle in which Mugabe has state and electoral institutions –– including the security forces, mainly the army –– behind him. Tsvangirai seems to have the people.

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