Letter from Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai’s dance shows his vitality against old foe

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ZIMBAWE – President Robert Mugabe, 89, is seeking a new mandate to run the country for another five years.

To do this, he has to beat his rival Morgan Tsvangirai who has launched a whirlwind campaign to urge supporters to dump Mugabe at the polls. Tsvangirai believes he is the perfect choice to extricate the country from the present morass. But opinion polls and pundits have given Mugabe an edge, not because of the incumbent’s popularity but due to the likelihood of a stolen vote.

There is all the evidence that this is going to be another disputed election as Tsvangirai’s MDC-T has already highlighted incidents of poll rigging and manipulation of the voters’ roll. The organisation of the poll has been a sham with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission messing up the staging of early voting for security officials and civil servants. Out of the 87 000 eligible early voters, less that 20 per cent cast their ballots over two days, raising questions of the commission’s ability to stage an election for 6.5 million voters in a day. Chaos in the administration of the poll suits Mugabe, who is banking on the rural vote to return him to office.

But his advanced age remains a source of national concern. It is apparent in his campaign message, which is littered with crude jibes against Mr Tsvangirai and useless talk. This little talk is interspaced with promises to take over foreign-owned companies, cancel household debt to local authorities and reviving industries, most of which closed a decade ago.  This is not enough, however, to mollify a restive electorate which is labouring under poor wages, unemployment and a collapsed health delivery system. Mugabe is also haunted by sharp divisions in his party where cadres who lost party primaries are standing as independents and are keen to rain on his parade. 

Mr Tsvangirai has been keen to capitalise, promising voters jobs, electricity, water, a  better livelihood and an end to economic stagnation.  He has even danced around a bit on the campaign trail perhaps to show his vitality and also played dirty when it suits him. This is perhaps his last dance.

Vincent Kahiya is editor of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper

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