Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

World Press Appeal to Zimbabwe Neighbours

US and UK media say countries in the region should pressure Mugabe to accept election results.
By Erica Beinlich
As Zimbabwe awaits the outcome of last week’s presidential elections, influential international media have called on neighbouring countries to ensure that the will of the people is respected.

Since the harmonised elections on March 29, opinion pieces published in leading US and the UK newspapers have pressed southern African states to do what they can to ensure ballot results are properly processed and adhered to, so that votes for change in Zimbabwe were not cast in vain.

Although official results from the presidential poll have yet to be announced, the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, has already claimed a victory.

According to the Zimbabwe Election Commission, the main MDC faction won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections held on the same day, with 99 seats, while the ruling party, ZANU-PF, took just 97.

“The leaders of neighbouring African countries must now make clear that the will of the Zimbabwean people must be upheld,” said the Independent on April 1. “The vote in Zimbabwe has already been recorded loudly.”

Mugabe may have got away with rigging the last two elections in 2002 and 2005, but this time, it seems, his defeat is so overwhelming that it would be hard for him to manipulate his way out of trouble.

“Whether Mr Mugabe succeeds in imposing fraudulent election results will depend on whether other governments in southern Africa… resolve, at least, to do something about the situation,” agreed the Washington Post, in an editorial on April 1.

If the incumbent president were to refuse to accept defeat, the South African Development Committee, SADC, charged with overseeing the elections, could probably pressure him into backing down by threatening him with isolation, it said.

But, the Post warns, “if [SADC members] tolerate another fraud and another entrenchment by Mr Mugabe, the disgrace will be theirs”.

The results, it said, will reflect on the whole of Africa and affect its standing in the world.

“At stake for Africa is the credibility of its institutions and their commitment to the rule of law,” said the Financial Times on March 31.

The responsibility for ensuring fairness falls squarely on two men, said the Times of London on March 31, South African president Thabo Mbeki and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

According to the opinion piece, the South African president must communicate to the rest of Africa whether the election results were “plausible or whether they are a product of shameless manipulation”.

The SADC tasked Mbeki with overseeing talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF in an attempt to resolve the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. However, the MDC claimed talks collapsed after Mugabe announced the March 29 date for elections, without introducing reforms the opposition had called for.

Rigged elections in Zimbabwe could do further damage to South Africa’s diplomatic reputation, following the failure of the talks, said the article.

But regardless of the election results, Times columnist Bronwen Maddox urged Britain “to help the shattered country more actively than it has done so far - and it will have no excuse for not doing so”.

The Los Angeles Times on April 2 agreed that Zimbabwe urgently required outside assistance. “Whether Mugabe departs gracefully or dies in office years from now, Zimbabwe will need international help to end the culture of kleptocracy and to learn from bitter experience how better to govern itself,” it said.

Not only must the international community help Zimbabwe get out of this situation because it is the right thing to do, but also because it had a hand in getting the country to this point in the first place, said Business Daily Africa, in an apparent reference to the legacy of colonialism.

Regardless of who has played a role in plunging Zimbabwe into its current state, other editorials said that the results of March 29 will mark a significant change in the country - brought on by Zimbabweans themselves.

Basildon Peta, in a column in the Independent on March 31, wrote that while he is sure that Mugabe’s reign is finally coming to an end, he is not convinced the transition will occur smoothly. “Mr Mugabe will probably declare himself the victor despite the results,” he wrote. “But he will now have to contend with a different nation.”

In Comment Is Free in the Guardian on March 31, Simon Tisdall outlined Mugabe’s possible options when the results are announced – from stepping down peacefully to imposing martial law in a “Musharraf gambit”, a reference to Pakistan's current president.

Yet “all the stuffed ballot boxes in the world may not drown out Saturday’s cry of rage”, he wrote. “Zimbabwe’s political fundamentals changed irrevocably this weekend.”

Erica Beinlich is an IWPR reporter in London.

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