Friday, March 28

Zimbabwe's "Kibaki scenario"

Zimbabwe holds elections tomorrow. It seems pretty much agreed that Robert Mugabe would lose a free and fair vote, but given the relative campaigning conditions for the government and opposition, that possibility is already out. The question now looks to be whether Mugabe retains enough influence over the country's security apparatus and other institutions to ensure a victory, and if not, whether he will accept a loss. For some background on the campaign and the main challengers - longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni, a recent defect from the reasonable wing of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party - see last week's Economist.

Much of the international press coverage has examined the vote in the light of Kenya's recent elections. In what must be a slightly embarrassing trend for Kenya, the question has frequently been framed as whether Mugabe will follow Kenya's lead in stealing the vote: the "Kibaki scenario" (Financial Times)

Jonathan Moyo, an MP who formerly headed Mugabe's propaganda efforts, told efforts told Reuters: "If Mugabe gets less than 51% and declares himself winner, that will immediately precipitate a Kenyan scenario. I won't be surprised if he did that because he is desperate to win this election by any means."

In another indication of how far Kenya's democratic star has fallen, Mugabe, after barring Western electoral observers, instead invited monitors from China, Iran, and...Kenya. (AFP).

There is also discussion of whether violence will follow the vote, as it did in Kenya. The BBC asks: "Could it follow Kenya's path into post-election violence with a backlash against any clear examples of vote rigging?" According AFP, there appears to be less risk of the type of ethnic violence seen in Kenya.

But Kenya's experience seems to have inspired Zimbabwe's opposition. The Guardian looks at the possibility of "Kenya-style mass protests" if Mugabe wins. As Ian Makoni, Tsvanigrai's campaign director, put it: "What happened in Kenya was they knew there would be fraud and they were ready. We will be out on the streets celebrating when the polls close. It can turn into a protest easily."

If that happens, Mugabe has given every indication he will make things ugly, assuming he still has his grip on the security forces: "If they make a disturbance like in Kenya, you will see. We are not joking. We warn the MDC, if they want to put a rope around their necks, that is OK.” (Times)

The BBC also raises (and quickly casts doubt on) the possibility of Kenya-style international mediation : "It may be that the success of an AU-supported mediation effort in Kenya, led by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, could provide encouragement for a similar role in Zimbabwe. But that would need the support of Mr Mugabe."

This is all a reminder of how easy it is to switch narratives. A few months ago, most observers were probably preparing to start wondering whether Zimbabwe would follow Kenya's democratic example.

No comments: