JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe’s main opposition party has said Wednesday’s national vote was illegitimate because of alleged irregularities, intimidation and election tampering.
The party’s top leader is calling for an audit, and another outspoken party leader who lives in South Africa is calling for the population to resist: not by rising up, but by doing nothing. Exiled politician Roy Bennett is calling on fellow citizens to stop paying their bills as a way of expressing their disapproval of the vote.
The last time large numbers of Zimbabweans stood up to President Robert Mugabe, there was a bloodbath.
That was in 2008, when the longtime president narrowly lost in the first round of a presidential election. Neither man won more than 50 percent, so a runoff was scheduled.
Rights groups said the next three months were soaked with the blood of opposition supporters who were beaten up, tortured and killed because of their votes.
The tide of violence prompted challenger Morgan Tsvangirai to pull out just a week before a runoff. Mugabe handily won that poll, though most countries rejected the result.
So far, there has been no large-scale violence during this week’s voting, which again pitted the two rivals against each other.
But the opposition has repeatedly said that Wednesday’s election was marred by irregularities, a charge supported by rights groups and by the nation’s largest domestic observer group.
However, officials of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change are not calling for the people to rise up. That, they warn, may bring more violence. Instead, they want people to do nothing. Bennett explained the strategy during an interview with VOA in Johannesburg.
“The people of Zimbabwe need to show that they did speak, that they are in the majority and that they are totally dissatisfied with ZANU-PF and therefore to enter into passive resistance," said Bennett. "People should, from today onwards, stop paying any bills towards taxes, towards electricity, towards water, towards council taxes, towards council rates, and stand by with an ultimatum to the Mugabe regime, that the people of Zimbabwe need to express their voices freely and fairly. And that until such time that genuine reforms have been made in the military, in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that allow people to have a transparent, accountable, auditable voters’ roll, and to go to the polls without fear and intimidation and totally without any military involvement, can Zimbabwe move forward, or can we set up a legitimate government and allow the people to claim the government of their choice," he said.
But Harare-based economist Godfrey Kanyenze said the proposed boycott will only hurt the boycotters. Kanyenze is the Founding Director of the Labour and Economic Development Institute of Zimbabwe.
“It basically has a boomerang effect, it comes back to the ordinary people. Because already we are suffering from an erratic supply of most of these utilities. There’s hardly any water to talk about. So basically, if you say, ‘don’t pay,’ it is going to make worse an already difficult situation," said Kanyenze.
Kanyenze added that a boycott is unlikely to affect top officials. He noted that 70 percent of the government budget goes towards paying civil servants.
“So it is the workers in the public sector that will actually suffer, not these senior officials. Because the senior officials, as we already know, they’ve got alternative sources of livelihood. They’ve cornered the diamond money. They’ve got other sources that they can actually look at," he said.
Bennett said he expects voters to heed his call because the opposition has few options.
“I have been overwhelmed, overwhelmed, by support from the people in Zimbabwe endorsing this position," he said. "So, you know, we are never going to get the people out in the streets. We know we are dealing with a murderous regime that’s going to kill anybody that’s down there. We also know that my fellow colleagues in Zimbabwe, if they made a statement like I’ve made, would be arrested, put into prison, killed, or worse. So therefore I happen to be in a position, understanding exactly how we think and what our policies and principles are, to make that call," said Bennett.
Mugabe has effectively ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, though he spent the past four years in a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai. That coalition, which was reluctant to begin with, has now clearly come to a bitter end.