Describing the Zimbabwean general election last week, Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the African Union observer mission, used the word “free” readily, but the term “fair” caught in his throat. Was the voting — based on a roll that included 1.7 million voters who are missing or dead, and featuring 35 percent more ballots than people casting them — fair? Obasanjo shrugged, turned his hands palm up, cocked his head and uttered, ”fairly.”
The AU and the Southern African Development Community nevertheless endorsed the election, allowing Robert Mugabe, 89, the world’s longest-serving ruler, to declare victory in the presidential race, with 61 percent of the vote.
The AU and SADC teams, the only external groups Mugabe allowed to monitor the poll, were plainly relieved by the absence of violence. Nevertheless, they should have made more of their obvious (and documented) reservations about vote-rigging.
It’s not too late. Presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change has vowed to submit a dossier of fraud allegations to the monitors. If the evidence stands up, they should pressure the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to order a new election. Most of the complaints stem from the dodginess of the voter roll. The commission released the list only two days before the election, leaving no time for voters, parties and candidates to inspect and verify it.
Eligible voters, on the other hand, were left out in constituencies likely to support Tsvangirai and his party.
The U.S., Britain and European Union, which have all imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe for earlier assaults on human rights and the rule of law, expressed concern about the election irregularities. They should go further and follow the lead of Australia, which called on Zimbabwe to conduct a new, legitimate election and said it would maintain sanctions until it does.
With this vote, Zimbabwe could have ended the isolation that its authoritarian order and corrupt elections have provoked for the past decade. Instead, Mugabe calculated he could continue stealing, as long as he did so bloodlessly. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
Bloomberg News (Aug. 5)