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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Zimbabwe: Is a fair vote possible?
For the first time ever, President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party faces a serious challenge at the polls. A country once seen as an African success story has come close to economic collapse.
Meanwhile, the president promises to redistribute land to black peasant farmers - his supporters have already asserted their authority on the farms, and made it clear that anti-government views will not be tolerated. Voting is taking place amid widespread political violence and intimidation.
Can the election be free and fair in these circumstances? What can be done to halt the violence? How can Zimbabwe reverse its decline and regain the respect it once commanded?
A selection of your emails will be broadcast on Focus on Africa during the 1705 edition on Saturday.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I have family living in Zimbabwe and fear for their safety. I have thus refrained from giving my full name and country.
For the past 20 years, Mugabe and his thugs have raped, pillaged, stolen, terrorised and destroyed what was once a beautiful, thriving country. Mugabe has shown himself to be this decade's Idi Amin and the day is not far off when he removes all NON blacks from his country and reduces the very people who voted for him to starvation and poverty while he lives a fat opulent life in Europe.
Murombo, South Africa
Is Zimbabwe any of Britain's business? Certain people say that they were harsh colonial leaders. Maybe, but is Mugabe any better? The election results in Zimbabwe won't be the sign of a free election. Zimbabwe is getting to the point of dictatorship. Mugabe says he doesn't need Britain, but with South Africa having problems sustaining its currency, Ethopia at war, Mozambique still reeling from floods, who else is there?
Paul Mavima, USA
In order for free and fair elections to take place, you must have law and order operating, the opportunity for people to canvass support and to express their opinions and a proper system to monitor the ballot and the count itself. Under all these criteria, Zimbabwe fails to offer any comfort. By all accounts, the MDC should win a majority, but Mugabe will ensure this doesn't happen, one way or another.
If the colonial power had put in place democratic institutions, there would have been no problems. The British played their usual games of "divide and rule", gang-raped all the wealth and now expect no retaliation? How naive! I wonder how many elections held over the infamous British Empire which were fair?
When I went to vote during the last elections, I found that my name had been deleted from the electoral roll. I suspect the same would have happened were I in Zimbabwe right now. Alive and well, but not on the register. But how many have arisen from the dead and made their way back onto the voters' roll to vote for ZANU PF? Many, according to my sources in Zimbabwe. Dead people certainly do have their uses. Free and fair? I think not.
Mugabe is nothing but a thug. He's no better than any other dictator out there. He just tries to hide behind a democratic face.
The only thing to stop the violence in Zimbabwe and ensure free elections is for outsiders to monitor the elections and a heavily armed peacekeeping force to put an end to the violence and intimidation. Zimbabwe cannot do it alone, at least not with Robert Mugabe in power. The only way for Zimbabwe to reverse its economic decline and loss of respect around the world is for the people of Zimbabwe to elect a new government, one that believes in upholding democratic ideals and believes that free enterprise and capitalism are the best and only viable economic systems. Robert Mugabe has been in power for too long.
Philip Machanick, South Africa
The elections will be declared unfair no matter who wins. After all the violence and killings how could they be declared free and fair? The fact that the opposition will win despite all this will show how unpopular Mugabe really is.
This is a rhetorical question and we all know the answer. This will be an unfair election at the backdrop of intimidation and murder, however, the Zimbabweans will have to solve this themselves. Like in many African countries election processes have never been fair and, although nobody openly talks about it, bribing is an open, integral part of society. So the one with most power and money will win.
One farm worker has told me about the torture and beatings going on in the farms. People have been forced into submission chanting Zanu PF slogans for their survival. But he told me that although they have been chanting slogans, they are all committed to change and thus will vote differently. Even if the elections are not free and fair, Zanu PF will have to cheat by wide proportions to win the vote.
As a Zimbabwean I know the elections will not be free and fair, however I will go out this weekend and vote for a change. Mugabe's time has came, I salute him for bringing freedom to the people. But what Zimbabwe needs is not a leader that we are indebted to, but a leader who can take us out of this economic crisis we are in. Unfortunately Mugabe is not that man.
The worst part for me in the Zimbabwean situation is the fact that black Africans are being killed and terrorised by a black government. When shall we as Africans respect our fellow brothers?
For Western journalists, the elections will be free and fair if the opposition wins. If Mugabe wins, the elections will be rendered unfair. That is how I understand it. But for the people of Zimbabwe, the most important question should be, are the opposition ready to take power and administer the country? Or are they going to be the puppets of their colonial masters?
Ros Pause, England
Mugabe is a man who has impoverished his country through lining his own pocket. He is a man who massacred thousands of his own people in the 1980s. Now after playing the race card failed he is resorting to murder, rape and torture to hold onto power. He has turned Zimbabwe into a country of fear.
I think that we all know the answer to this question. What is more important to ask what will happen AFTER the elections? Either way, there is going to be some serious violence. People in Zimbabwe seem to feel so strongly about the elections, whether Zanu-PF or MDC supporters, that no matter who wins, there will be a lot of Zimbabweans who lose.
Mairi Vuamai, Nimule, South Sudan
The elections will take place, come what may. Unfortunately, British colonial arrogance is very much alive and kicking. This is evidenced by the shameful demonising of Mugabe who is merely trying to right the wrongs done to the indigenous owners of the land.
Africans want all the wealth and privilege of power without any of the responsibility. Until the African leaders accept democracy and start educating their people into democracy, Africa will continue to fester. Naturally, the education programs are expensive and as the budget is reserved for luxury palaces, private jets, villas in Switzerland etc, the West will have to pay the bill. Where governments in Africa have been changed by a "fair" election, closer analysis will show that the incumbent Government ran out of thugs rather than arguments.
Free and fair. Free and fair. This is the cry of all Zimbabweans. Mugabe is not fair, and until he goes nobody in Zimbabwe will be free. The intimidation and violence he has started is of his very own hands.
He wants his glory days back. Those good old days where everyone saw him as the hero who won a country back for his people.
Free and fair elections in Zimbabwe? Wow, if that could happen it would be wonderful but at the moment, it seems a distant and very slim possibility.
There are people here who think Mugabe's first name is President.
Leave us alone please. This is how civil wars start, with seeds of discontent being sown unnecessarily everywhere by outsiders. We, who have lived with Mugabe all these years, have an understanding of the man. Stay out.
Chris Wood, SA
Refusing international monitoring teams entry into Zimbabwe is a clear image of what the outcome will be! It is better for Zimbabweans not to waste their time going to vote.
President Robert Mugabe was the leader of the great revolution that brought freedom to Zimbabwe. He has ruled for more than twenty years and given the best he can. I believe, as most reasonable Africans do, that it's high time for President Mugabe to leave power and become an honourable African statesman like Mr Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
Nqobile Mnguni, S Africa
Elections in Zimbabwe will only be seen to be fair in the eyes of the West if Mugabe is trounced in the polls. This begs the question, who is this election for? Zimbabweans or Europeans?
Leave Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans! Stop meddling in their affairs. Where was the media during the last 20 years when the poor Zimbabweans suffered in their own country due to deprivation of their own land? Why is the Western media wailing about the land issue now?
David Nilsson, Zimbabwe (expatriate)
Mugabe will narrowly win. Why? Because he has the backing of the rural areas whom he thoroughly indoctrinated with the "Food for Hunger" programme in the early eighties. Mugabe knows that very well. I grew up in the rural areas and I know how the people think. They are illiterate and think one way - the Mugabe way.
How can an election be called fair when the opposition party is continuously under threat, and is not even able to campaign freely? How can an election be called free and fair when international monitor groups are being turned away, unable to do their work? Is this in itself not indicative of a government so corrupt, so determined to win, that vote rigging is not out of the question
Unfair elections are not just a problem in Zimbabwe. It is a problem that is experienced by many African countries. The only solution to this would be education. Africans need to know their rights, and this will only be achieved
Karen Hampson, UK
Mugabe's Zanu-PF will win fairly. But of course, observers are only prepared to declare the elections fair if the party loses. Since Zanu will not lose, we will hear a chorus from the usual suspects that the elections were neither free nor fair.
I think the British are overly concerned about matters which are none of their business. The notion that elections are only free and fair if the British pronounce them to be so is what is causing so many wars in Africa today.
Who cares who is in charge so long as there is peace?
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