Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe election victory was a 'masterclass in electoral fraud'

Opponents claim  Zanu-PF conned its way to power – rather than taking it by force

Harare

Zimbabwe’s election on Wednesday was picture-perfect. Inspiring images came in from all over the country of diligent voters queuing patiently as they waited to cast their ballots in the presidential and parliamentary polls.

Millions doubtless believed they were patriotically playing their part in their nation’s democratic destiny. Now, however, they feel they were merely political props – a cynical veneer of respectability for an outrageous electoral deceit aimed at reaffirming Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s ageing patriarch.

As results trickle in from constituencies across Zimbabwe, the scale of Mr Mugabe’s controversial victory is becoming clear: the 89-year-old is on course to claim an outright win in the presidential contest, thus avoiding a run-off poll. At the same time, his ZANU-PF party has re-asserted its authority in parliament: the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission yesterday said it had won 142 seats in the 210-seat parliament, securing the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.

The result has been lambasted by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as “a sham”, and “a huge farce”, tainted by “monumental rigging”. The MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is the country’s Prime Minister in an awkward power-sharing arrangement, has warned of a repeat of the descent into chaos that followed the equally disputed 2008 elections.

For outsiders, the result is baffling. Mr Mugabe, who has held Zimbabwe under his brutal authority since independence in 1980, is a diminished figure, widely mocked inside Zimbabwe for his senility and his vanity. While he retains chunks of support in rural areas, and a power base in the police, army and courts, informal polling indicates a steady decline in his electoral appeal.

By almost all measures, Mr Mugabe’s record as a leader is abysmal. In 1980, Zimbabwe was sub-Saharan Africa’s second richest country, but his stewardship has seen the economy wither, halving in size in the decade leading to 2009. People have searing memories of the hyperinflation of 2008, reaching 231 million percent by some measures, with prices doubling every day – it only ended with dollarisation under Tsvangirai’s government. And Zimbabwe remains a pariah state, subject to sanctions by the European Union and the United States, including a travel ban on Mugabe and his inner circle.

So how did Mugabe do it? The answer, according to his observers and opponents, is shameless electoral swindle at almost every level while maintaining the mere façade of an orderly poll on the day itself.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a local observer group with 7,000 monitors, has listed a litany of offences, including state media bias, a campaign of intimidation in rural areas, and the rushed electoral process before key reforms the security services were in place. But the most effective measure was fiddling the electoral rolls. Held back until the day before the election – thus avoiding proper scrutiny – the roll revealed an estimated one million invalid names, including many deceased voters. And it excluded up to one million real ones, mostly in urban areas where the MDC support is strongest.

This is much more subtle than past poll fixes, when ZANU-PF literally muscled out its opponents. By 2008, when Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election but was forced to withdraw after an outbreak of violence by Mugabe henchmen, this method was looking too crude.

“When Mugabe used violence in 2008, he lost legitimacy, so he found to find other ways to win,” said Pedzisai Ruhanya, from the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, a Harare-based think tank.“What we have seen is a masterclass in electoral fraud. It is chicanery, organised theft and electoral authoritarianism.”

Crucially, being violence-free earned the election a qualified thumbs up from electoral observers from neighbouring African nations. Yesterday, the head of the African Union’s 70-member mission, Olusegun Obasanjo, hailed the peaceful voting while downplaying other incidences, saying they were not enough to affect the overall result.

But for Europe and the United States, who were barred from sending electoral monitors, it is trickier. After a new constitution was approved in a referendum earlier this year, the European Union relaxed some of its sanctions. Officials have yet to given an opinion on the election, but sanctions could reimposed.

As for Zimbabwe’s voters who had sensed the shifting mood and hoped for change, disillusion is setting in. On Wednesday as they waited in line, they might well have reflected on how much hung on their decision at the ballot box. They now wonder if the election was won long before the first vote was cast.

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star