Controversy as Mugabe wins Zimbabwe presidential polls again

Zimbabweans line up near a polling station in Harare.
Zimbabweans line up near a polling station in Harare.
Alexander Joe

Zimbabwe’s 89 year-old President Robert Mugabe extended his time in office to a seventh term. The man who has ruled since 1980 defeated his opponent and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai by carrying 61% of the vote.

Western nations raised concerns about the validity of the elections that were held on July 31. Accusations of rigging by observers and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party cast a shadow over the election.

“What they have simply done is to plunge Zimbabwe into a political, constitutional governance issue, because they do not have the people, they do not have the legitimacy and they do not have the capacity of running this government,” said outgoing finance minister and MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti.

Tsvangirai already said he will formally challenge the results and present evidence of vote rigging and irregularities to the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC). He may run into some obstacles beyond a political system run by his opponent. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma issued a statement in support of the results shortly after they were released.

“Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections, as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people,” said South Africa’s office of the president on Friday.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, head of the AU election observer mission, also said affirmed the election results calling the results “fairly credible.”

Western leaders have a different opinion. US Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement that was critical of the election. He called on the AU and SADC to address electoral concerns. He was joined by British Foreign Minister William Hague and the European Union in voicing public concerns about the election.

“In light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the United States does not believe that the results announced today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people,” said Kerry.

Once a shining example of democracy and progress, Zimbabwe has turned into an example of power gone wrong. Excessive inflation led the government to cut zeroes off the currency and traders to turn to the more stable US dollar. Violence followed the last presidential election in 2008. Tsvangirai won the first round, but a run-off was required since he did not receive more than 50% of the total vote. Increasing violence led Tsvangirai to pull out of the second round and it continued when Mugabe won the second round.

A power-sharing agreement placed Tsvangirai in the office of Prime Minister and Mugabe remained president. Five years of an uneasy relationship between the two leaders were cause for a return to violence during this year’s elections. Despite the contested results, most accounts point to a peaceful process last week. People waited in long lines to vote, but violence was not observed in cities. The Guardian’s David Smith reported evidence of intimidation and violence in rural parts of Zimbabwe the day before the election.

Signs point towards a stand-off between Zimbabwe and the West. The SADC and AU will review the results and likely affirm them which will leave the US and others with questions about what to do next. Meanwhile, the dispute over the results is already impacting Zimbabwe’s economy. The Zimbabwe Stock Market took a big hit today with some leading companies losing as much as 20% of their share price, reports the AP.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.