- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has done everything in his power to dictate this weekend's election results. He has gotten rid of the pesky election observers from the European Union, members of the 45,000-strong army have been commanded to vote for Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and laws have been changed to make criticism of him, or giving voice to opposition, a crime. This weekend's presidential "election" is a grand charade that Mr. Mugabe has been working months to produce in which he stars as candidate and voting monitor simultaneously.
Morgan Tsvangarai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has posed the biggest threat to Mr. Mugabe since he came to power when Zimbabwe gained its independence from Britain in 1980. So it's no wonder that just days before the election, Mr. Tsvangarai was charged with treason for plotting to assassinate Mr. Mugabe a charge the opposition leader denies. Despite the fact that Mr. Mugabe's supporters have killed numerous MDC members and burned one of its offices and the building that produces its campaign material, Mr. Tsvangarai maintains a positive outlook, vowing to defeat the president despite Mr. Mugabe's use of violence against his own citizens. Though Mr. Mugabe will not likely allow anyone to replace him, even if he is voted out, we wish Mr. Tsvangarai godspeed.
Mr. Mugabe is a very desperate man. If the orders handed down for members of the military to vote in favor of Mr. Mugabe are not cause enough for concern, his election policies should be. At least 50,000 dead people have been kept on the voting rolls, according to a senior opposition official. Also, thousands of Zimbabweans living abroad have been denied the right to vote unless, that is, they are government officials. Government employees are also the "election monitors" of choice, and many international and independent local monitors have been denied accreditation for the elections. Polling stations have also been reduced in areas that support the opposition and increased in areas that support Mr. Mugabe.
The State Department's 2001 human rights report on Zimbabwe, released Monday, lists additional abuses. According to the report, Mr. Mugabe's government repeatedly refused to abide by judicial decisions, and its security forces committed extrajudicial killings. The government gave material support to ruling party supporters and war veterans to kill, abduct, torture, arrest and rape farm owners, workers and opposition party members and supporters. That's quite a campaign platform.
While Mr. Mugabe's campaign of violence and vote-rigging will rob many of his countrymen of their voice this weekend, he cannot take away their desire for freedom. Mr. Mugabe's desperation is a testament to the momentum being gained by the Zimbabwean people, who are determined to change their country for the better. He hurts all of Zimbabwe by silencing them.


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