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Questions and Answers

Zimbabwe Election

By Naeesa Aziz
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; 4:59 PM

Why are the elections significant?

Zimbabwean citizens will vote in elections Thursday in which the Movement for Democratic Change is fighting with Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, the party of President Robert Mugabe, for control of 120 of the 150 seats in parliament.

Mugabe, who has been in power since the country gained its independence in 1980, directly appoints the remaining 30 seats in the parliament. Violence and intimidation by the ZANU-PF during the campaign caused the European Union this week to call the vote “phony.” About 500 international observers – but none from Britain, the United States or the European Union -- will be monitoring the vote. As democratic reform spreads across Africa, many are watching to see if Zimbabwe will remain in the power of the 81-year-old Mugabe.

The economy in Zimbabwe has been in a freefall for five years and hunger has become a major issue. ZANU-PF officials have prevented international food aid from being distributed to political opponents.

What are the issues?

Zimbabwe has come under international scrutiny for its economic mismanagement and laws repressing independent media and free speech. The country has one of the highest inflation rates in the world and a 70 percent unemployment rate. Mugabe has blamed many of the country’s economic problems on Western nations that have suspended aid disbursements to the country due to disagreement with his policies.

The declining political and economic situation in the country has created a significantly large Zimbabwean diaspora, equaling more than 20 percent of the population. It is estimated that this migration has robbed the country of two-thirds of its workforce. According to a recent decision in Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court, these nonresident citizens will not be able to vote in Thursday’s election.

Will the elections be fair?

In August 2004, the Zimbabwean government passed election reform in accordance with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Although election reform has been passed in support of these guidelines, certain principles of the agreement such as equal opportunity for political parties to access the state media and media independence have not been met. The government controls all media. Foreign journalists sometimes face harassment and prosecution from working in the country without explicit permission.

Reports of flawed elections in 2000 and 2002 questioned the legitimacy of Zimbabwe’s democracy. As a result, Mugabe has barred observers from countries that have been critical of his administration. Observers from South Africa, China, Iran, Venezuela and countries from the Southern African Development Community were all extended invitations.

What is the international community saying?

The pervading concern is that the elections will not be free or fair and there is concern about election day violence. Amnesty International issued a report saying the government’s persistent violation of human rights is making the possibility for free and fair elections “impossible.” Human Rights Watch wrote in a report that “the playing field for the 2005 election has not been level” due to constant “intimidation and repression” of Zimbabwe citizens.

This March, President Bush reinstated personal sanctions on Mugabe and members of his ruling party because of “the unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.” In January, at her Senate confirmation hearings to be secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice called Zimbabwe an “outpost of tyranny” along with six other nations.

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