In announcing he has decided not to participate in the presidential runoff election scheduled for today, opposition Zimbabwean candidate Morgan Tsvangirai lamented that sitting President Robert Mugabe’s supporters had replaced the ballot with the bullet. He was right.
Since Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round on March 29 — 48-43 in the government’s count, probably by an outright majority if the ballots were counted honestly — Mugabe’s supporters and the government have conducted something of a reign of terror against supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.
Hundreds of people have been beaten up and at least 80 killed. Earlier this month a governing party militia blocked Tsvangirai supporters from attending a rally in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.
Whether he comprehends it or not, however, Tsvangirai’s lament is about an example of the mask of comity and respect for process slipping to reveal the true barbaric nature of all too many modern governments.
The late Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong famously remarked that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, and governments everywhere stay in power through force and coercion.
Most governments seek to camouflage this essential nature in these days (in days gone by they talked about the “divine right” of kings) with the language of consent and the trappings of democracy.
Robert Mugabe, however, is and has for a long time been one of the more ruthless dictators in the world. As is all too common, a regime based almost solely on the desire of a leader to maintain himself in power leads to policies that harm the society the leader claims to represent. Thus as a result of Mugabe’s policies Zimbabwe is one of the poorest and least hopeful societies in the world, breeding despair and a sense of hopelessness among his subjects.
Having discovered it was no longer possible to rig elections as successfully as in the past, however, Mugabe and his supporters have all but abandoned the façade of a legitimate government underpinned by fair and orderly process and reverted to the bottom line of those who cherish power for its own sake — the use of force and intimidation.
One can understand Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision. After a few weeks of hope following the original March 29 election it has become increasingly apparent that Robert Mugabe plans to stay in power by any means necessary, and that today’s election will be anything but free and fair. But it’s beyond tragic that Zimbabwe, once an oasis of prosperity in Africa and now an island of poverty and despair, will languish under Mugabe’s boot for even one day longer.