One Zimbabwe or Another
An Interview with Greg Elich
By Mickey Z, www.mickeyz.net
April 15, 2005
Is it me or is there a suspicious number of democratic (sic) revolutions (sic) going on these days? And they come in more colors than the Department of Homeland Security terror code. With Zimbabwe being one the nations suddenly on America's democratic (sic) hit list, my go-to guy is Greg Elich, author of the forthcoming book, "Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit." I asked him (and Jack Straw) for a little context on the recent elections.
Q. Indulge, if you will, in a little roleplay. You're British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and you've condemned the Zimbabwe elections as "seriously flawed." How were they flawed?
A. As Jack Straw, I'd feel that the clearest indication that the recent elections in Zimbabwe were flawed is the fact that the party I backed, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) fared quite badly. The MDC won a mere 41 seats in parliament, as compared to the ruling ZANU-PF's 78. Worse yet, this outcome was a marked drop off from the 57 seats the MDC won in the previous parliamentary election in 2000. The signs of decline were there all along, with the MDC losing a majority of by elections in recent years, and polls taken just before the recent election all showed a significant drop in support for the party. Over the past few years, the British and American governments have pumped millions of dollars into the coffers of the MDC and various NGOs operating on behalf of the MDC and Western governments to bring about "regime change." As Jack Straw, I expect a return on my investment, and the MDC failed to deliver. It couldn't even pull off a post-election coup against the government.
Q. What does Jack Straw do now that his team has lost?
A. Now, as Foreign Minister, I can't be too obvious about what it is that I find so disturbing about the election. So I announce that the election did not reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe when in fact what I really worry about is that the election did not reflect my will. Any election that the party I back loses is by definition flawed. Yet, as Jack Straw, I still harbor hopes that British, U.S. and European Union sanctions and destabilization campaigns will ultimately bring down the government and I warn that the government of Zimbabwe is "fragile" and "will collapse sooner rather than later." That's the British government's stance, and indeed, that of the Bush Administration's as well. Western media have spared no efforts in imparting that viewpoint to their populations, and it is rather remarkable how completely their assertions have gone unexamined. They have their interests. The real question for the rest of us should be how believable and accurate is the information we're being fed? There's plenty of room for skepticism.
Q. Speaking as Greg, what's *your* take on the recent elections?
A. The March 31 Parliamentary election was the first in Zimbabwe since implementation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) election guidelines, which were designed to ensure a fair and transparent election process. Zimbabwe, in fact, is the first nation in the region to modify its legal structure to accommodate the guidelines. Among the provisions adopted was creation of an electoral commission responsible for management of the process, with five members appointed by both parties in Parliament, and its head appointed by the President. All votes were to be counted at polling stations in the presence of agents from both parties and translucent ballot boxes would be utilized. Air time on state television and radio would be given to the opposition party during the election campaign, and the government of Zimbabwe allocated funds to both parties based on the percentage of seats won in the previous parliamentary election. In line with that policy, the government provided $559,000 to the ruling ZANU-PF and $516,00 to the opposition MDC to fund election publicity campaigns. During parliamentary debate on the new electoral laws, several amendments proposed by the MDC were adopted, including the use of indelible ink and extension of voting hours. The government of Zimbabwe had in fact successfully implemented regional election standards well before the election.
Q. Did the Western powers follow a familiar formula in their response to the election results?
A. It is not by chance that the U.S. and British governments started crying "fraud" weeks before the election even took place. All polls showed the MDC would lose the popular vote. The strongly implied message from Anglo-American leaders was that the only fair outcome would be a win by the opposition, planting the seed of doubt in the minds of the public and in effect, preparing the ground for rejection of the election results. The election went as expected, with the ruling party winning 59 percent of the vote, matching very closely what the polls had indicated. Predictably, after the election, accusations of fraud by the MDC and the Bush and Blair Administrations' grew louder and more persistent. International observers on the ground came to a different conclusion. The SADC mission said that in its view "the elections were conducted in an open, transparent and professional manner," and voters "were able to express their franchise peacefully, freely and unhindered." The mission noted that the MDC had approached them with a series of complaints. "In a number of situations, they did not bring evidence to back their complaints. In general we have come to the conclusion that that the election does reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe. We operate on facts." In regard to claims of fraud, the mission noted, "Up to now it has not been backed up."
Q. What about non-Western nations? What about the rest of Africa?
A. Both the South African and the African Union missions concluded that the election reflected the will of the people. The MDC had complained to the South Africans that food distribution was being used as a political tool. The South African mission investigated specific complaints by the MDC but in the end said it "was unable to verify the truthfulness of the same, where follow-ups were made." The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, which deployed 856 observers, felt that "the elections are an expression of the people's wishes and our conclusion is that they were free and fair." This wasn't the story we were being told by Western media, which instead focused on the MDC's persistent allegations. Changing vote totals proved fraud, the party asserted. In almost all polling stations, the MDC claimed, final totals had gone up, surely the result of tampering with the vote. The main problem, however, appeared to be the fact that the number of voters given as the election was in process reflected the situation at the moment, and therefore, the final totals would be inevitably be higher. In two constituencies the MDC maintained that totals went down, but offered no evidence to back the claim.
In the U.S. and Great Britain, the claims were accepted without examination, and it was widely assumed that the mere assertion of fraud had proven the case. However, the MDC had four monitors assigned to each polling station who were fully involved in the vote-counting process. Due to the implementation of SADC guidelines, each step of the process was audited and a paper trail recorded, and all votes were counted in the presence of observers from both parties. At the end of the process at each polling station, party agents endorsed the final count. Only then could the final result be sent to the registrar. According to the anti-government New Zimbabwe, "a senior MDC official told this website that the party's polling agents had checked their figures against the results announced by the ZEC, and the numbers tallied." The MDC official persisted in believing there must have been some sort of fraud, despite a lack of evidence. "We are clutching at straws, to be honest," he admitted. Under the circumstances, though, fraud seemed impossible. According to SADC observer mission head Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, "The vote-counting process was conducted meticulously and lawfully. It is worth noting that all stakeholders from party agents, monitors, presiding officers and local observers performed their duty as expected and no one could leave the room before the counting was finished."
Q. Let me ask for a clarification: Are you saying the election was problem-free?
A. No. It was evident that insufficient attention was paid to voter education, leading to a high number of voters being turned away either due to lack of proper identification or for reporting to the wrong voting station. Presumably, some voters were able to rectify their mistakes in time to vote. But even here, the scale of the problem was greatly exaggerated in the Western press where figures like 10 percent or even 25 percent were being bandied about. In fact, the number of voters involved was 4.9 percent. International observers pointed out that the problem affected supporters of both parties equally, and did not influence the outcome. Overall, the election was a success in terms of implementation of SADC election guidelines, ensuring a smooth and transparent process. U.S. and British leaders could only regard the election as a complete failure, however, except in terms of a successful propaganda campaign to discredit the results.
Reprinted from counterpunch.org with permission from Mickey Z.
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