Monday, April 7, 2008

Zim sits on razor edge

Robert Mugabe is flailing around like a wounded beast. As he lies panting on the ground, he is guarded by a core of generals, who refuse to contemplate surrender. No one can tell whether he is going to get to his feet again.

But it would be foolish to underestimate his powers of recuperation. He clearly believes he still has options, despite losing control of parliament for the first time in 28 years and almost certainly losing the presidential poll a week ago.

Yesterday he fought on two fronts simultaneously. On the political front, his Zanu-PF party played for time - demanding a recount to check "errors and miscalculations". If accepted, this will delay the presidential announcement still further.

But as opposition lawyers were petitioning the high court, demanding the election results, another front was engaged. Three white cattle ranchers were forced off their land on Saturday and a fourth was said to be holding out against 50 war veterans threatening to break down the

Mr Mugabe is returning to tried and tested techniques of intimidation. Not all white farmers left after the seizures eight years ago, and attacking the remainder who still work on parts of their former properties sends out two messages. First, Zimbabwe's problems are all down to the white man. Second, Zanu-PF can turn on the violence anytime it likes.

These tactics worked in the last elections in 2002, and Mr Mugabe must be toying with the idea of using them again. The longer a second round run-off is delayed, the more time Mr Mugabe has to "correct" the rural vote in his favour.

The farm seizures took place in provinces that switched to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last Sunday. Zanu-PF know exactly which villages voted against them. Without proper monitors (those from the Southern African Development Community ran off without the results being declared), villagers who turned against their traditional masters are now even more vulnerable than the white farmers to a knock on the door at night.

Mr Mugabe may have other ruses up his sleeve. If and when it announces the presidential results, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is expected to say neither candidate got more than 50%. Accordingly, the government will be given 21 days to mount a run-off. But Mr Mugabe might be able to use presidential decree to postpone a new vote for three months - especially if
there is violence.

The MDC will almost certainly have to contest the re-run and prove to its supporters that it will not be intimidated by violence as it was in 2002. If for no other reason than protecting defenceless villages in remote provinces from the retribution of a vengeful regime, this time the MDC must stand up and be counted.

Source: The Guardian, UK

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