Whoever wins the Zimbabwe elections may be inheriting a poisoned chalice


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Whether you’re a foreign investor, a Western diplomat or a Zimbabwean voter, the hope was that after Robert Mugabe was ousted last year there would be a ‘free and fair’ election.

Monday’s contest between President Emmerson Mnangagwa, for a long time a Mugabe ally, and charismatic preacher, Nelson Chamisa, is too close to call, according to the latest polls, making a runoff on September 8 a real possibility.

There have been reports of intimidation and coercion, and state media is biased toward the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) but there is consensus that the process has been better than before.

Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old former intelligence chief known as “the crocodile”, has welcomed in foreign media and international observers from the EU, US and the Commonwealth, while opposition parties have been freely allowed to campaign.

Observer groups have yet to give any initial assessments. While it may not be judged ‘free and fair’, analysts say it may be classed as ‘good enough’ when measured against the rigging and violent suppression that marred elections under Mugabe.

For Zimbabwe to re-engage with the West, end painful sanctions and secure the International Monetary Fund program it needs to rebuild a moribund economy, it needs the observers to at least sign the vote off as credible.

“That verdict would be the gateway to a successful recovery from Zimbabwe’s syndrome of crises. It is absolutely critical,” said political analyst Eldred Masunungure.

Chamisa, 40, a trained lawyer fond of sharp suits, has already discredited the process. He accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of bias, citing opaque ballot paper printing and a voters roll that includes dead people and children.

Chamisa’s Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) has not said how it will respond to the alleged indiscretions. The ZEC has repeatedly defended its independence.

“It all depends on your benchmark,” Masunungure said.

“If you ask Zimbabweans who have been through previous elections they will tell you this is the best they have seen in a long time. If you measure it against the international gold standard, you have an issue.”

The most likely outcome, provided there is no blatant rigging or widespread violence, is observers will criticize lapses in the process without discrediting the vote, Western diplomats and analysts say.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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