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Opinion: Violence looms as Zimbabwe elections approach

Power-sharing government a sham as Mugabe controls army, police and security.

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers his speech on the occasion of Zimbabwe's Expo day at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai on August 11, 2010. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe is facing elections next year which could see a repeat of the violence that marred the 2008 poll between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe, 86, is pressing for fresh elections despite evidence that he will be rejected in any contest that is remotely free and fair. But he has the military, police and state apparatus in his corner.

Tsvangirai, 58, who has been on the receiving end of Mugabe’s coercive measures — he was brutally assaulted by police in 2007 — is pinning his hopes on the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) playing a supervisory role that will deter electoral manipulation and violence.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai are currently locked in a SADC-sponsored government of national unity which has proved shaky and unpopular with both sides. South African President Jacob Zuma is preventing it from total collapse.

Tsvangirai as prime minister has continuously battled with the stubborn and intransigent Mugabe  who lost the popular vote in the 2008 poll but who managed to squeak a win in a runoff election. Not surprisingly Mugabe refuses to concede power. Despite institutional reforms to the voting system and the prospect of a new constitution, change has been slow and shallow. The police continue to arrest civic activists, the latest victims being members of an American medical team who were arrested for working to assist the country’s AIDS victims without a licence.

Mugabe doesn’t hesitate to excoriate his opponents and uses a raft of repressive laws to jail them when they respond.

Two MPs are now facing charges of “insulting the president” for denouncing Mugabe at rallies for Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Tsvangirai's party. A 23-year-old man in the country’s eastern districts was recently sentenced to one year in jail with hard labor for asking two teenagers why they were wearing T-shirts bearing the image of Mugabe that he described as “an old man with wrinkles.”

Tsvangirai was reported as having told his party’s supporters that at their last meeting “Mugabe said the prevailing peace in the country was ideal for us to go for an election.”

In fact cases of violence and intimidation persist to the extent that the constitutional outreach program has had to suspend hearings in some parts of the country.

Tsvangirai told his supporters that: “We are going for an election as SADC and the AU have said an election is the only way to close this chapter.”

The third party involved in the government of national unity, the smaller MDC formation headed by Arthur Mutambara, has denounced the agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai as “evil.”

The smallest party said it was shocking that the two main parties could have concluded a pact of this sort.