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False Hopes

In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections have been scheduled for March of 2008. The decision to hold these elections—brokered after a series of negotiations held under the auspices of South African president Thabo Mbeki—has been hailed by none other than the regime of Robert Mugabe itself. What, then, is to make us believe that the outcome of next March’s balloting will prove any different than the results of past elections in 2000, 2002, and 2005, all of which were rigged? Indeed, there have been several disturbing developments over the past several weeks which indicate that neither Mugabe nor (more worryingly) Mbeki are serious about free and fair elections.

According to opposition leaders, since the end of the South African-brokered negotiations, the Zimbabwean government has turned down 103 applications for political rallies (the fact that political parties must register with the government before holding a rally is itself indicative of the nature of the Mugabe regime) and it is still meting out violence against democracy activists. Yesterday, the government reiterated its support for stringent media laws which make it practically impossible for foreigners to own television or radio stations (effectively banning the foreign television and radio media from operating freely in the country). This will make it easier for the regime to cover its inevitable election abuses come next year.

And to add insult to injury, after having declared victory over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a diplomatic row over his attendance at an upcoming European Union-African Union summit in Lisbon, Mugabe’s mouthpieces are now demanding that the E.U. tell Brown to “shut up” about Mugabe’s gross abuses of human rights because “Gordon Brown is not even qualified to talk to us on human rights and as you can see he failed his own country’s internal democracy in Britain.” This is in reference to Brown’s decision not to call an immediate election to ratify his mandate as an unelected prime minister who assumed power following the resignation of his predecessor. An absurd allegation, of course, but one that apparently seems to convince Mugabe’s fellow African leaders.

Amidst all of these recent developments, how can anyone honestly believe that next year’s elections will be free and fair?


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