Fears of rigging hang over first post-Mugabe vote

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By Bloomberg

THE country’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change is convinced it has enough support to secure an outright win in upcoming elections. It’s less confident it will actually be able to claim power.

The southern African nation hasn’t had a peaceful political transition since white-minority rule ended in 1980, and all the votes held since 2000 that handed victory to Robert Mugabe were marred by allegations of rigging and violence.

While Mugabe was forced to quit in November and his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised a free and fair election, the MDC says sweeping reforms are essential to ensure its credibility.

“We’re preparing and planning for the best, but budgeting for the worst,” MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said in an interview in his office in Harare, the capital. “The worst is obviously a rigged election, a blocked transition, where we have victory but the military or some other force refuses to accept the will of the electorate.”

A 40-year-old lawyer, Chamisa took control of the MDC after its long-time leader Morgan Tsvangirai succumbed to cancer in February and will contest the presidency against Mnangagwa, 75, a former intelligence chief. The MDC has allied with six smaller opposition parties for the vote, which must be held by Aug. 22.

Ballot Concerns

While the opposition isn’t anticipating a repetition of the numerous murders and rape and arson attacks that marred previous campaigns, it has concerns about controls over the ballot papers, the integrity of the voters’ roll and the composition of the National Logistical Commission, which will run the election, according to Chamisa.

No opinion polls on the likely election outcome have been published to far. Surveys conducted ahead of previous votes proved unreliable.

At Zanu-PF’s primaries this week, there were some major upsets and disputes. Senior officials including party chairwoman Oppah Muchinguri, Industry Minister Mike Bimha and Chris Mutsvanga, an adviser to Mnangagwa, lost their nomination bids, according to tallies released Thursday. Mutsvanga said in a letter to Zanu-PF that he rejected the results.

The MDC will hold its primaries next week, party spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said by phone.

Mugabe’s Resignation

Mnangagwa came to power in November after Mugabe was forced to resign following a brief takeover by the military, led by former general Constantino Chiwenga, who’s now his vice president.

Both the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the opposition have pledged to revive an economy that’s halved in size since 2000 as a result of a failed land reform program, hyper-inflation and mass emigration. Zimbabwe has the world’s biggest platinum reserves after South Africa and also has deposits of gold, coal and iron ore.

Rashweat Mukundu, an analyst at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said the ruling party may resort to intimidation and violence if it sees its grip on power under threat.

Zanu-PF’s Advantage

“The electoral playing field is still very much tilted in favor of Zanu-PF, starting with control of the electoral process and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which is staffed by known Zanu-PF loyalists,” he said.

Zanu-PF has dismissed concerns about rigging and says it will easily win what will be a fair contest.

“We’ve invited observers from around the world, including the European Union, because we want this election to be acceptable both at home and abroad,” Simon Khaya Moyo, a ruling party spokesman, said by phone. 

The election date is likely to be announced within the next few weeks. About 5.3 million people have registered to cast ballots.

Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, considers an opposition win unlikely.

“Yes, there’s evidence that the MDC alliance has gained considerable grassroots support, going by attendance at their rallies, but I don’t think it’s enough to upset Zanu-PF,” he said by phone.