Every election these days is a “watershed” election the term has completely lost its meaning. This is like calling a football match pitting two teams of overweight boozers, “El Clasico”! (El Clásico is the name given in football to any match between Spain’s fierce rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The clash of the Titans!).
Still with not even one democratic reforms in place Zimbabwe’s 2018 national elections is already for foregone conclusion; Zanu PF will blatantly rig the vote and win with another landslide victory, just as the party has done in 2013. Where is the “watershed” significances in that!
If any elections deserve the “El Clasico” attention it must be the March 2008 national elections and the follow up July 2008 presidential run-off election. The election was not a titanic clash of ideas or ideologies, as one would normally expect in watershed elections. Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections will be remembered as the one occasion the nation had a good long and hard look at President Mugabe and his Zanu PF vote rigging juggernaut in all its naked brutal ugliness.
People have often described President Mugabe’s corrupt and tyrannical dictatorship as an iron fist in a velvet glove. Like so many other tyrants, President Mugabe has been very careful not to use his iron fist in broad day; he crashed his enemies and critics in the dark. Well in 2008, for the first time ever and for a few short months, the velvet glove was off and everyone saw the iron fist descend like a sledge hammer crashing its victims like bugs with a sickening and unforgettable crunch!
Zimbabwe’s economic situation before the March 2008 vote had forced Mugabe to take his heavy foot off the gas of the vote rigging juggernaut. Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown before the 2008 elections was there for all to see; inflation had soared to 500 billion per cent, unemployment was 80% plus, the shop shelves were bear, etc. Even a cold-hearted tyrant like Mugabe could not deny that the country was in a real economic mess and needed some political change if only to allow some economic change.
President Mugabe allowed electoral reforms and granted opposition political freedom in the 2008 elections that he had never allowed before and has never repeated, again since. The March 2008 was the nearest Zimbabwe has ever come to a free, fair and credible elections and the electorate seized the opportunity to vote for change with both hands.
Tsvangirai won 73% of the vote in March 2008, by Mugabe’s own admission. It is said that Mugabe would have conceded defeat was it not for the country’s top brass securocrats and Zanu PF hardliners like VP Emerson Mnangagwa who “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”!
ZEC was ordered not to announce the result but to recount the votes instead. (With a landslide winning margin, only a fool would fail to see ZEC was cooking the result.)
After six weeks of recounting 5 million votes (a select top-secret team revisited every Polling Station across the land planting false ballots to tally with the recount and destroy all the incriminating evidence of the true vote, just in case opposition had been smart enough to challenge the announced result in Court of law – that took the six weeks), ZEC announced that Tsvangirai had 47% of the votes to Mugabe’s 43%. 47% gave Tsvangirai victory but not the 50% plus one needed to avoid the run-off.
A run-off President Mugabe and his thugs were determined to win at all cost. All the electoral concessions made before the March vote were discarded. Mugabe threw the vote rigging juggernaut into overdrive and floored the accelerator!
President Mugabe and his cronies launched a military style Operation “Mavhotera papi” (Whom did you vote for!) whose sole purpose was to punish the people for rejecting him in the March vote. Zimbabwe, like so many other African countries, has always had a culture of political violence but the sheer brutality of the 2008 violence by Zanu PF youths and rogue war veterans backed by the Police, Army, CIO and other State Institutions was unprecedented.
“What was achieved by the bullet cannot be undone by the ballot!” President Mugabe announced menacingly, to cheer and encourage lawless thuggery.
Millions of ordinary Zimbabweans were forced to go into hiding, hundreds of thousands were beaten and/or raped and over 500 were murdered in cold blood in the four months of operation Mavhotera papi.
“Mugabe has declared war on the nation,” mourned Tsvangirai, when announced his forced withdrawal from the race.
ZEC announced the result of the July run-off by noon following the voting day as contrast to six weeks in the March vote. President Mugabe had overturned the 73% defeat into an 84% landslide victory! In football terms this would be the equivalent of Barcelona overturning a 7 to 0 thrashing by Real Madrid in the first half into 15 to 7 victory.
FIFA, the King of Spain, Spanish government, everyone will be demanding to know what happened. Hundreds of people would die of heart attack during the game, if that ever happened! El Clasico, my foot!
It was not surprising that no one accept Mugabe’s 84% July 2008 victory as a true reflection of the democratic wish of Zimbabweans given the same people had totally rejected him only four months earlier. No one, not even SADC and AU; known for giving their thumbs up to many dodgy elections; would accept the July election was free and fair. To regain political legitimacy, Mugabe was forced to team up with his political challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, and form a GNU.
The primary task of the GNU was to implement a raft of democratic reforms to stop all the blatant vote rigging and wanton violence of 2008 ever happening again. Sadly, for the nation, Tsvangirai and his MDC friends, who were tasked to implement the reforms, failed to get even one reform implemented. They turned out to be breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent, President Mugabe bribed and bamboozled them with ease.
President Mugabe has learned since the 2008 elections that he can continue to rig elections and never again have any legitimacy problems as long as he allows the opposition to win a few gravy train seats. In 2013, MDC leaders ignored the warning that Zanu PF will rig the vote and thus deny the people a meaningful say in the governance of the country because they were after the give-away gravy train seats. They are ignoring the warning of Zanu PF rigging 2018 elections for, exactly, the same reason – greed.
So, instead of the 2013 elections being the watershed elections delivering the country’s, long awaited and first ever free, fair and credible elections; the economic recovery; the good governance; etc. The elections rigged and thus failed to deliver any of the hoped-for changes. With no reforms in place all this talk of 2018 being “watershed” elections is just nonsense; the elections will be another damp squib.