A few days ago, media critic and comic Jon Stewart interviewed Hillary Clinton campaign chair Terry McAuliffe on the Daily Show. After McAuliffe announced that Hillary Clinton was winning the primary race and would be the President come November. Stewart observed, “Your strategy right now appears to be, ‘If we act deranged enough, maybe they’ll just give us the country.'”
Fortunately, it looks like this isn’t going to work in the US. But Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party appears to be pursuing a truly deranged strategy and, tragically, it’s likely to work in Zimbabwe.
There’s been no shortage of election violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe, documented by groups like Sokwanele. But recent events have suggested a new, and more frightening, phase of voter intimidation as the presidential run-off election nears.
– Morgan Tsvangarai, the challenger to Robert Mugabe, who received the largest plurality of votes in the first round of elections, has been detained twice in the past week. In the name of safety, Tsvangarai is being prevented from holding rallies or public meetings for the weeks leading up to the election. These strictures don’t affect Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, just the opposition.
– Multinational aid agencies are no longer permitted to work in Zimbabwe, as of Thursday. This move by the government has at least two implications. One, NGOs can’t help with election monitoring, as some may have during the first round of elections. Second, NGOs may not be able to feed MDC supporters, who are denied food aid… or are being forced to surrender their voter ID cards to ZANU-PF officials in exchange for food aid.
– A US and UK diplomatic convoy was forced off the road by police, attacked and robbed by ZANU-PF supporters. The attackers threatened to burn the diplomatic vehicles unless the diplomats agreed to be taken into police custody. The US ambassador, James McGee, has been detained previously by Zimbabwean law enforcement. His spokesman reminded the press that, whatever situation the diplomats had faced, “it is really nothing compared to what the Zimbabwean people suffer on a daily basis.”
THe overall impression I’m getting from recent news is that there are no hold barred for the next three weeks, leading up to the June 27th election. This is a bit more unusual than you’d expect – one of the odd things about Zimbabwe is that, despite problems of hyperinflation, unemployment, widespread unemployment and pervasive political violence, some aspects of government have continued to work. When Barry Bearak of the New York Times and Stephen Bevan of the Sunday Telegraph were arrested in Harare for “committing journalism”, a court quickly threw out the charges and released the men, arguing that the prosecution charged the wrong crime and had insufficient evidence.
The view of Zimbabwe as a totalitarian dictatorship, thoroughly rigged, isn’t an accurate one – instead, there are lots of Zimbabweans in the parliament, judiciary and press trying hard to reclaim their country. And a governmental fondness for rules and procedures means that the structures of democratic checks and balance have some power in Zimbabwe… even if legislation permitting ludicrious violations of privacy and restrictions of speech are passed through parliament.
The most recent stories, especially the story about the diplomats, suggests that this may be slipping away. You don’t arrest and threaten diplomats – it’s how you become a pariah state and lose cooperation from other states. If ZANU-PF and the Mugabe government feel so threatened by this upcoming election that they’re not even pretending to follow international norms, this election is likely to be an extremely ugly and bloody one.