Subtle bullying tactics likely to deliver poll victory for Mugabe

Jen Redshaw

Despite Robert Mugabe's claims of a violence-free run-up to tomorrow's parliamentary election, the main opposition says the subtle use of threats will still deliver victory to the president's ruling party.

The MDC accused the government of using a new strategy of intimidation rather than the outright threats that had been adopted at previous elections in Zimbabwe.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Mr Mugabe's government had already rigged the election.

More than 5.6 million Zimbabweans are expected to vote for 120 members of the next parliament at 8,200 polling stations.

State media said 3,000 extra officers would be deployed to 'ensure peace, safety and security continue to prevail in the coming week' across the country.

The opposition said Mr Mugabe and his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) stole the country's last two elections, a parliamentary poll in 2000 and a presidential ballot in 2002.


The MDC claims that this time the ruling party has mixed a powerful cocktail of intimidation, propaganda and hundreds of thousands of non-existent voters in its bid to steal the poll.

Yesterday, the MDC alleged Mr Mugabe's party had stepped up its efforts to stop opposition supporters voting. It said 50,000 teachers had been employed as polling officers but were sent to stations outside their constituencies so they could not vote. The ruling party traditionally views teachers with suspicion.

'We view this development as another of the regime's futile attempts to steal the election,' the MDC said.

Mr Mugabe's party, born out of Zimbabwe's protracted struggle for independence in the 1970s, dismisses all suggestions of rigging.


The party has vowed to wrest back seats won by the MDC in the country's last parliamentary election, when the fledgling opposition took 57 seats to Zanu-PF's 62. This time 'the opposition presence in parliament will be cut to 15 seats', said Didymus Mutasa, the ruling party's secretary for administration.

As fears of turmoil rose, churchgoers held vigils to pray for peaceful polling.


'Everything hangs in the balance in the next few days,' a Presbyterian church minister told his congregation at an Easter morning service in Highlands. 'Democracy is going to be brought back to Zimbabwe because we have lost it.'

Police swooped on opposition supporters on Sunday, arresting at least 72 for chanting party slogans after a rally addressed by the MDC's leader, firebrand former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai, in Harare's Highfields township.

Criss-crossing the country to whip up support, the seeminglyinexhaustible 81-year old Mr Mugabe - often flanked by his unsmiling wife, Grace - has told rallies they must 'bury [Tony] Blair'.


He says the British prime minister wants to recolonise Zimbabwe and make Zimbabweans 'slaves of the whites again'.

Mr Mugabe is keen to see Zanu-PF's presence in parliament surge to beyond the two-thirds mark. That would allow him to change the constitution and bring in sweeping changes to Zimbabwe's political landscape.

He has already said he wants to reintroduce a senate by June. And there are suggestions the president, who has made no secret of his plans to retire, may bring back the position of ceremonial president for himself, handing over the reigns of day-to-day power to a carefully chosen underling, such as his new deputy Joyce Mujuru.


Victory may not be won that easily. Latest opinion polls show Mr Mugabe's lead over the opposition is slight, with 40 per cent of the vote against 34 for the MDC.