It’s the same sad story in Zimbabwe, despite progress in governance elsewhere in Africa
‘We don’t have the money for these elections, and everyone knows it.’
The ruling gave Mugabe the legal excuse he needed to snub his regional peers. A subsequent application by opposition parties to the constitutional court to delay the poll was also dismissed.
Despite this, SADC stood up to Mugabe and ordered him to push back the election. Its communiqué also made other demands, including a call for the immediate deployment of election observers across Zimbabwe.
In response Mugabe threatened to pull out of the regional body and dismissed its envoy on the ground - President Zuma’s international relations adviser, Lindiwe Zulu - as an “idiotic woman”.
Although the level of violence that Zimbabweans experienced during the 2008 polls has not yet materialised, Zanu-PF is being accused of rigging the voters’ roll, a far more subtle approach to getting its way.
A report issued by the Harare-based Research & Advocacy Unit in early July has revealed major discrepancies bewtween the voters’ roll and census figures.
The organisation estimates that nearly two million young Zimbabwean adults - a demographic that traditionally votes against Mugabe -- have been disenfranchised. With only three weeks to go to the election date, the whole process is in turmoil.
Mugabe’s stance in relation to SADC has complicated the regional body’s role as guarantor of the Zimbabwean elections. And there are now serious question marks over how far the body will go to rein Mugabe in.
Tsvangirai has conceded that his efforts to get reforms introduced before the poll have failed, and he has entered the presidential race “with a heavy heart”.
At the party’s campaign launch last Sunday the MDC leader said he had read “the national mood” emanating from ordinary Zimbabweans. It was clear, he insisted, they wanted to end years of suffering in a political and economic crisis created by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
All things being equal, the MDC would be favorites to win this election, but at this point the advantage appears to be with Zanu-PF. Nevertheless, there will probably still be a number of twists and turns as the drama unfolds that could have a bearing on the final result.
Zanu-PF itself is said to be in disarray due to infighting linked to the party’s succession battle. Mugabe is 89 and this will probably be his last campaign. How that will affect party unity during the poll, which will be needed for it to triumph, remains to be seen.
Furthermore, it remains unclear how the polls will be paid for. Finance minister Tendai Biti said on Monday that the cash-strapped government still needed $85m to finance the election, which he described as “a nightmare”. “We don’t have money for these elections, and everyone knows it. It’s a horror movie except that you are not watching the movie, you are part of it,” Biti said.
Bill Corcoran reports from southern Africa for The Irish Times.