July 28, 2013

The writer is prime minister of Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe is attempting to steal Zimbabwe’s most important election.

With voting underway this week, the country is at a crossroads: Will Zimbabwe transition democratically to a socially just and inclusive economy, led by a government committed to the people, or will it continue down a road of despotism and political violence, with an economic system held hostage by a corrupt regime interested in its own financial gain? Mugabe is committed to ensuring the latter.

In the past month alone, Mugabe manipulated the already shambled voters’ rolls, keeping hundreds of thousands of eligible people from registering; abused presidential powers to change election laws; and unilaterally declared an illegal election. These are actions of a party whose ideology has failed but whose thirst for the personal spoils of power remains. Many have asked why my party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), would participate in elections that are so clearly rigged. The answer is simple: We are responding to the tidal wave of energy from the Zimbabwean people, who desperately want to replace this evil regime and rebuild our beloved country.

If the people are allowed to exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote, the numbers will overwhelm the election-rigging machinery of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the MDC will win in a landslide. But the challenges to a free and fair election are daunting. Mugabe is the world’s oldest leader and one of its longest-ruling dictators. He is fixing this election in a more sophisticated fashion than previous ZANU-PF campaigns of beatings, killings and intimidation. The Zimbabwe Election Commission-led voter registration centers are well-staffed and well-resourced in provinces that favor the ZANU-PF — but they are deliberately inefficient in MDC strongholds. The registrar general’s office has made it all but impossible to register the nearly 1 million so-called aliens — legal citizens whose parents were born outside of Zimbabwe — eligible to vote. In a sign of things to come, the commission recently conducted a special voting process to allow police officers and others who may be deployed elsewhere on Election Day an opportunity to vote. The commission has said that 69,000 police officers applied for special voting, but there are only about 40,000 police officers in all of Zimbabwe. The special voting process was chaotic to the point of absurdity. These are not the actions of a responsible government exercising its ability to compete in a fair poll.

Many political analysts, journalists and respected leaders have suggested that the MDC boycott the election and appeal to the international community, including the Southern African Development Community, stressing that the elections are not credible and that the ZANU-PF government would therefore not have any legitimacy. But Mugabe has shown — in elections in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 — that he has no concern about lack of legitimacy. If the MDC boycotts the election, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party will simply declare victory on polling day. They will rebuff any accusations of illegitimacy by the international community, which would be virtually powerless to do anything beyond maintaining sanctions, which themselves only enable illicit trade.

The people of Zimbabwe want elections as quickly as possible because they want to make a Mugabe-ruled country part of history. While the MDC, the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the rest of the international community want to see a fair pre-electoral process and the agreed-upon reforms before people go to the polls, as patriotic Zimbabwean leaders we must be responsive to the people who want change now. We must enable them to stand up for their right to vote and demand change.

The MDC has endured many challenges, like all political parties attempting to operate in an oppressive, dictatorial environment, but we remain united. Momentum is shifting in our favor. Other major political parties, some of which are former Mugabe allies, are joining our coalition. We recently launched our election manifesto at a rally that attracted 50,000 people. I am crisscrossing the country, presenting comprehensive plans to rebuild our shattered nation.

Mugabe’s election-stealing antics have been documented throughout Zimbabwe and beyond. Yet the international community seems apathetic; perhaps Mugabe has been stealing elections for so long the world just rolls its eyes and moves on. Zimbabwe has had enough of Robert Mugabe and his tyrannical regime. The MDC is participating in this election because we know there is a better way. The people need and deserve new leadership. They are demanding we participate, win and give Zimbabwe back its future. That is what we are going to do.

Read more on this topic:

The Post’s View: Will the West stand up for a free election in Zimbabwe?

The Post’s View: Keeping Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in check