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Zimbabwe Vote Poses Human Rights Concerns

Heightened police presence by Zimbabwe state security and army have signaled voters that tomorrow’s presidential and parliamentary vote will be orderly with no room for protest. Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) contends that the election is being rigged by President Robert Mugabe to perpetuate rule by his ZANU-PF government. Professor Rowly Brucken is the American country spokesman on Zimbabwe for Amnesty International. He says that a recent suggestion by Zimbabwe police that any other outcome to tomorrow’s vote will not be tolerated should be taken as a serious threat.

“We have heard statements from the head of the Zimbabwe Republic Police that he would not respect any government that was not one led by Robert Mugabe. Robert Mugabe has issued troubling statements that he would not let the MDC take power while he is alive. These statements are threats, and they have a chilling effect on the opposition, and they are rightly condemned,” he said.

Brucken took note of government warnings against politically motivated violence if the opposition loses the election. But he had specific criticism for President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, which he says has “thoroughly penetrated the state security apparatus and has turned it into ZANU-PF’s agency.” He said Amnesty International is very concerned that if Saturday’s vote does not go according to the way the government wants it to go, or if there’s a heavy voter turnout in urban areas favoring the opposition, in combination with a low voter showing in what were seen as rural ZANU-PF strongholds, there could be a resort to government induced violence.

“There’s not only fear, but there’s also simple hunger. Amnesty International documented in the past the manipulation of food aid by the Grain Marketing Board, the governmental agency that has a monopoly for the responsibility of the distribution of grain. And allegations that Amnesty documented that grain was being taken to regions of the country that traditionally had strong ZANU-PF support, and withheld from cities. So that food and hunger have been used as a weapon in order to make people subservient to the wishes of the ruling party,” he noted.

The Amnesty spokesman, who also serves as a professor of history at Norwich College in the US state of Vermont, acknowledges that levels of violence in the run-up to this year’s elections are reduced compared to the 2002 and 2005 polls. He also says that in the event that none of the three candidates, Mugabe, MDC opposition contender Morgan Tsvangirai, or ZANU-PF independent candidate Simba Makoni, wins a clear majority in Saturday’s vote, a second round of voting has not been ruled out. And Amnesty International recognizes that the Makoni candidacy represents a first in the country’s history.

“Certainly, there is a chance, with a three-way candidacy, which has not been seen in Zimbabwe’s history. Usually, it’s been a dual runoff from the moment of independence in 1980. So this will be something new. It’s certainly mandated under the constitution. So there’s no question of whether it would be legal. The question is, if that does happen in reality, if the ruling party would acknowledge that, and we would hope, certainly, that the ruling party would,” he said.