25 June 2018

Zimbabwe: The Nation Forges On to Elections Despite Bombing

Zimbabwe is preparing for elections amidst tensions over a recent bomb blast at a rally. International observers are in the country for the first time after two decades.

Despite the weekend bomb blast, Zimbabwe's government has vowed to proceed with its first election since independence without longtime leader Robert Mugabe. The blast that narrowly missed Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at a weekend rally in Bulawayo has killed two people, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said on Monday.

Elections to take place

The explosion rocked the White City Stadium on Saturdaywhere the president was addressing thousands of his supporters. He managed to escape unhurt. At least 49 people, including the president's two deputies were injured. While investigations are under way, the government has ruled out postponing the elections scheduled for July 30. Harare has instead opened the doors to welcome the first group of international election observers into the country after they had been denied entry for almost two decades.

A team of 44 European Union observers was deployed over the weekend across Zimbabwe's ten provinces. Observers from 46 countries and 15 regional and international organizations are set to keep a close eye on the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. The forthcoming election is the latest turning point in the most tumultuous few months of Zimbabwe's political history.

In November 2017, former President Robert Mugabe -- who was accused of being a dictator -- wasforced out of power after 37 years following a peaceful military takeoversupported by the vast majority of the 17 million population. But now tension has intensified due to the violent attack at the presidential rally in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo.

Attack an isolated event

Eldred Masunungure, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe, believes that the attack was an isolated event orchestrated by parts of the governing party itself: "It is scary, but I do not think the opposition is involved in any way. I would rather think it is an inter-regime affair, a continuation of struggles within ZANU-PF and the factualism that bedevilled the party in the past three to four years," Masunungure told DW in an interview.

"It might prevent some supporters to attend rallies but the election schedule is unaffected," he added. The president has ruled out a state of emergency and repeatedly called for calm: "We as a people must unite," Mnangagwa said.

At the moment, the deployed election observers are going to play a crucial role, says Musunungure. "Zimbabweans put more faith and confidence in international observers rather than in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) or observers from the African Union (AU). They play a critical role in this particular one, more than they have ever done in previous elections in Zimbabwe."

Observers play crucial role

"Their verdict is likely to be important in determining wether it is a credible election, meeting international standards of being free and fair." Masunungure is optimistic, that the trajectory of a more open system is likely to continue beyond elections irrespective of which candidate wins. "This process is not irreversible, but it may slow dow."

The country's opposition is largely confident that the presence of international observers will limit election irregularities witnessed in the past. Opposition representatives are hoping observers will be able to scrutinize what they allege as subtle intimidation of the rural populace by the ruling party. "It has been our issue with ZANU-PF to say why are you not allowing observers to come from anywhere in the world," Jameson Timba, an opposition member from the MDC party told DW. "But because they had something to hide, they were denying observers to come."

The poll pits the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotric Front (ZANU-PF), against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the long-standing opposition. ZANU-PF is now led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former vice-president nikcnamed "the Crocodile" who took power when Mugabe was ousted.

The MDC's election candidate is Acting Chairman Nelson Chamisa. At 40 he is much younger than the 75-year-old political rival Mnangagwa.Chamisa took over this position in February after the death of former MDC founder and leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Surveys indicate a potentially close race but one that ZANU-PF should win according to analysts. It will be a key test for Mnangagwa who has pledged to hold free and fair elections and seek to mend international relations. He himself is a veteran hardliner from the ruling ZANU-PF party and was a longtime ally of Mugabe who left the former prosperous country in political turmoil, economical decline and a population in fear of security crack-downs.

Privilege Musvanhiri in Harare contributed to this report.

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