President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, shown here casting his vote, likely manipulated today's election. (Source: Reuters)
Reports are now coming in following the first general election in Zimbabwe since the power-sharing agreement put in place by President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, allowing the latter to become Prime Minister following a close election and violent aftermath in 2008. Mugabe's camp, as well as his party, ZANU-PF, have concluded that they have won a landslide victory both in the presidential and parliamentary polls, though they are not specific on the numbers. In turn, Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party called the election a sham, with Tsvangirai himself saying the election was a huge farce. Of course, which such elections a constant tribulation, the big question is: Did Mugabe really steal the election, even after the events of five years ago?
Two better questions would be: Did Mugabe already have the election set before the first vote was cast? And did Tsvangirai even have a chance, were the conditions fair? Foreign Affairs recently concluded that Mugabe's manipulation of the polls was far more subtle than was the case of five years ago. Mugabe committed various actions over the years, in spite of the power-sharing agreement, that allowed him to play the electoral game to his advantage. In particular, he overrode parliament by not only letting the courts decide that an election be held no later than July 31 this year, followed by a presidential decree affirming it. This made proper voter registration, a key issue for Tsvangirai, impossible to perform. Furthermore, many of the old systems of electoral politics remain in place, in particular Mugabe and ZANU-PF's political and military lockdown of rural areas, preventing access by either Tsvangirai's MDC-T or minor parliamentary party MDC-N.
On the other hand, Tsvangirai and his MDC-T were not the strong alternative they were in 2008. Despite establishing a majority in the lower house of parliament, MDC-T remained in opposition in the upper house, due to appointments by Mugabe. This made bills intended to reform the political system incredibly difficult, if not impossible to pass. However, even with that in mind, the country has been relatively stable following the abandonment of the hyper-inflated Zimbabwean dollar and the introduction of foreign currency, leaving the incentives of voting for Tsvangirai less prominent than they were five years ago. The MDC-T and Tsvangirai have also left themselves exposed by being unable to properly organize their voter base, in particular in urban areas of Bulawayo and Harare, though this may in part due to laws designed to suppress their right to rally and organize. Also unendearing to them were claims of corruption on the MDC-T's part. Finally, there is the matter of Tsvangirai, who lost popularity as rumors of his sexual hedonism following the death of his first wife in a car crash left red meat for ZANU-PF and Mugabe to use against him.
The final numbers for the election will not be announced for some time. However, local reports on the ground indicate that in at least some constituencies, there have been manipulations of the voter rolls for specific seats, especially in urban areas where the MDC-T and MDC-N are prominent. With this in mind, there is little doubt that the 89-year-old Mugabe and ZANU-PF will attain the majorities needed to rule the country in full through manipulation. Still, it is hard not to think that, even if Mugabe avoided altering the vote, he still will win over Tsvangirai.