Leading article: Even amid the horror, an election is still the best way to oust this tyrant

Share
Related Topics

The benighted country of Zimbabwe has entered the last days of campaigning before next Friday's poll. As recently as a week ago it was hard to imagine how the circumstances of this presidential run-off could possibly deteriorate any further. Yet deteriorate they have, with practically every day bringing new evidence of the depths to which Robert Mugabe is prepared to stoop to hang on to the dismal remnants of his power.

The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is spending the weekend closeted with senior members of the Movement for Democratic Change, considering – not for the first time – whether to go on. While the prospects were always slim that the poll would be anything like free or fair, the deviousness of the stratagems employed by the Mugabe government and the ruthlessness with which his henchmen have pursued members of the opposition have exceeded the most pessimistic predictions.

The campaign has been marked by escalating physical cruelty. The government clearly calculated that the relative calm in which the first round was conducted acted against its interests. The notorious veterans' militias have been mobilised in rural areas, where the opposition did unexpectedly well in March. Individuals suspected of sympathies with the MDC have been kidnapped and beaten. The wife of Harare's mayor became the fourth mayor's wife to be abducted and killed. Many thousands have been forced to leave their homes, thereby forfeiting their registration, and their vote.

Campaigning, for the opposition, has been so hedged about with restrictions as to be almost meaningless. MDC rallies are banned for spurious reasons of security; its campaign adverts are rejected by the monopoly state broadcaster, ZBC. The party's secretary general has been arrested and charged with treason. And while the authorities have – so far – stopped short of charging Mr Tsvangirai himself, he has been arrested several times while out campaigning.

Even international food aid has become a weapon in the government's hands. Regions that vote for the MDC have been threatened with having their aid withheld. In a country where up to half the population could run short of food in the coming year, this is a particularly base – and effective – form of blackmail.

All this – designed to deter, if not actually destroy, the opposition – is before any voting has actually begun. If and when it does, the old tricks of siting polling stations in the middle of nowhere, manipulating the electoral lists, and stuffing and mislaying ballot boxes will doubtless come into play. That such techniques failed to prevent the MDC's win in March was largely thanks to assiduous monitoring by local party activists and observers, who meticulously recorded the actual vote tallies, station by station, as they were posted up.

It is not at all certain that there will be such effective monitoring this time. The level of intimidation is much higher, and the number of observers has been slashed. It seems that there will be only 500 domestic monitors – almost 20 times fewer than in March – along with 500 from other African countries.

With so much stacked against him, and physical danger ever present, it would be understandable if Mr Tsvangirai withdrew. Why should he give Mr Mugabe the satisfaction of an electoral "victory"? Having come so far and braved so much, however, he has no reason to accept defeat. Beset by inflation and food shortages, Zimbabweans voted for change once; they might be courageous enough to do so again. Nor, with a handful of African leaders starting to question Mr Mugabe's rule, is the MDC quite as friendless as it was. Even at this late stage, it would be wrong to abandon hope.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Broker / Purchaser

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The possibility of Corbyn winning has excited some Conservatives  

Labour leadership: The choice at the heart of the leadership campaign

Jeremy Corbyn
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos  

Greece debt crisis: Trouble is, if you help the Greeks, everyone will want the same favours

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson Charlotte McDonald-Gibson
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'