FORMER British Guardian foreign correspondent in Moscow, Luke Harding, expelled from Russia in 2011 for his hard-hitting coverage of the Kremlin, wrote an interesting book Mafia State recounting his experiences under President Vladimir Putin’s hardnosed regime.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
Having arrived in Moscow in 2007, Harding lived in a climate of fear, with endless break-ins at his apartment and attendant threats, engineered by Russia’s Federal Security Service — the successor to the notorious KGB.
In early 2011 Harding was refused re-entry into Russia after writing unflattering stories about Putin’s vast wealth and suspicions that he knew about the London assassination of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, among other things, becoming the first foreign journalist to be banished since the end of the Cold War.
The Kremlin’s kicking out of Harding was described as “petty and vindictive”, and evidence — if more was needed — of media tyranny in Russia where free-thinking journalists operate in fear as some have been murdered for their work.
While the book is dramatic and spell-binding, what I found more interesting, due to a proximity of interest, is the fleeting reference to Zimbabwe by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev — one of the country’s most colourful oligarchs.
Lebedev, part owner of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta and proprietor of four UK newspapers, the London Evening Standard, the Independent, Independent on Sunday and i-newspaper, was in 2009 controversially barred by the courts from running for mayor of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
In reaction, he said the decision to bar him for allegedly receiving donations (US$20) from minors was “insane”, before likening the Sochi polls to elections in Zimbabwe.
As if that was not enough Communist party candidate, Yuri Dzaganiya, told Harding: “These aren’t real elections; it’s the appointment of a Kremlin candidate with a little bit of (sham) local voting.
“Our billboards get taken down in the dead of night. We can’t distribute materials. I don’t appear on state TV. I have never been to Zimbabwe, but the comparison isn’t far from the truth!”
This really shows how Zimbabwe is now a key reference point on electoral fraud, even by politicians in far-flung countries like Russia. President-elect Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party have now become notorious the world over for rigging.
What is now amazing is no longer that they rig elections, but the scale of the theft.
Zanu PF cronies argue if there was any rigging, MDC-T leader, outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, must produce evidence to back his claims.
But my retort has been that the evidence is there for all with eyes to see: chaotic voters’ registration, registering voters illegally after the exercise had closed, voters’ roll irregularities, turning away of over half-a-million registered voters, use of fraudulent registration slips to vote illegally, duplication or missing of thousands of names, unusual high numbers of assisted voters, ghost voters and allowing partisan electoral officials as well as the military to run the show.
In other words, calculated disenfranchisement and deceit on a massive scale is the evidence of rigging. Quite apart from Israeli security firm, Nikuv International Projects’ skullduggery, there is evidence which in any civilised country where courts and judges are unbiased is enough to get the results nullified. Of course, Nikuv — which handles voters’ rolls and elections results — played a decisive role in the polls outcome.
If the MDC-T’s application is taken to any serious jurisdiction where there are impartial courts and progressive jurisprudence, the results will be annulled, but in Zimbabwe it’s a foregone conclusion: Mugabe’s re-election will stand although this will simply reinforce the country’s global notoriety for stolen elections and its rogue-state image which is badly damaging to the economy.