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#2018ZimElections: World is Watching Zim Election

The events that precipitated the downfall last November of Robert Mugabe, one of the world’s longest-serving despots, have been characteris...

The events that precipitated the downfall last November of Robert Mugabe, one of the world’s longest-serving despots, have been characterised as a “coup not a coup” by Zimbabwean novelist Panashe Chigumadzi. 

Chigumadzi’s mocking phrase plays on the fact that Zimbabwe’s military has pretended that rolling tanks on the streets and telling Mugabe it was time to go did not constitute a military overthrow. 

Today, as the people of Zimbabwe vote for the first time since independence without Mugabe’s name on the ballot, the biggest question is whether the country will hold an election — or an “election not an election”. 

Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mr Mugabe’s erstwhile henchman and the man who profited from the “coup not a coup” by succeeding him, needs legitimacy. He needs legitimacy in the eyes of his people so that he can advance plans to open up the country for business. 
The Elders Arrived in Zimbabwe for the Elections 

More, he needs legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, so that Zimbabwe can once again tap into international finance and attract foreign investment. To gain credibility, Mr Mnangagwa must be seen to have won Monday’s election fair and square. 

His problem is that, for 40 years under the ruling Zanu-PF party, the government has specialised in “elections not elections”. No matter how badly things were going or how unpopular the ageing President Mugabe had become — he won his last election in 2013 aged 89 — like magic, he always emerged victorious. 

Zimbabwean voters go to the polls in landmark election Sometimes the tactics were crude. When Mr Mugabe lost an election in 2008 to his long-term adversary, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, he unleashed a wave of violence, forcing his opponent to withdraw. 

Sometimes they were more subtle. Zanu-PF became adept at gerrymandering, doctoring electoral rolls, intimidating opponents, monopolising the media and controlling the electoral commission. The question this time is whether it will resort to the same old tricks to secure victory. 

Many are saying it is doing precisely that, albeit in an overtly more open environment. Almost as important is whether the international community will cry foul. At one end of the spectrum are the British, who are desperate to welcome Harare back into the international fold. 

London wants a legitimised government with which the world can do business. If electoral observers convince themselves that Mr Mnangagwa has won fairly, Zimbabwe’s international debt arrears can be renegotiated and the country reinserted into the global community, including the Commonwealth. 

Recommended The Big Read Zimbabwe election: what the strongman left behind The US takes a tougher line. After Mugabe stole elections in 2008, Washington imposed sanctions on several Zimbabwean companies and individuals, including Mnangagwa and Constantino Chiwenga, the coup leader who is now the vice-president. 

Additional legislation passed by Congress committed Washington to veto any debt renegotiation unless Harare could prove it was democratising and improving human rights. Unless Nelson Chamisa, the young opposition candidate, pulls off a surprise victory, the US is likely to move more slowly than the UK and others in normalising relations with Harare. 

That would in effect keep a Mnangagwa government in suspended animation, unable to access international funds or reignite a collapsed economy. On the eve of Monday’s election, Tibor Nagy, US undersecretary of state for Africa, tweeted that the “world is watching” to see whether Zimbabwe can pull off a credible poll.

 For Mr Mnangagwa and his hopes of international engagement, this time an “election not an election” simply will not do. — Financial Times 

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