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  Democracy or dictatorship?
Updated 19 March 2002, 17.28
President Robert Mugabe

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Forms of government

Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth. This is because of the way President Robert Mugabe ran his country's general election.

Students look at how voting conditions determine what form of government exists in Zimbabwe.

Learning aims

  • What democracy means
  • What a dictatorship is
  • How we ensure elections are fair
1) Icebreaker
Read the story

What is democracy?
Ask students the following questions:

  • Can anyone call themselves a president?
  • Why do we have elections?
  • Should a leader be treated differently if they have been elected?

Read students the following definitions:

A form of government where the leader has total power.

Democratic society:
A form of government where the people share in deciding how things are run.

Read out the following descriptions.
After each description use a show of hands to vote on whether it describes a democracy or a dictatorship. [ * = dictatorship]

  • Free and fair elections.
  • People in charge are beyond the law*.
  • Ordinary people feel powerless*.
  • People can change things.
  • The majority (most people) get their way.
  • Only a small group of people get their way*.
  • The leader can declare war on anyone he wants*.
  • You get a chance to change the leader.
  • It normally takes violence to change the leader*.
2) Main activity
Read through some problems with recent voting in Zimbabwe. These are from a Zimbabwean election observer in the Midlands province.

Unfair tactics in the Zimbabwe election.

[1] . Making it harder for some people to vote.
Opposition supporters live mostly in the towns. On the first day of polling, there were long queues of people waiting to vote, especially in the cities. The queues were a result of the decision to reduce the number of polling stations in towns.

[2] Making it easier for others to vote.
In the countryside people were able to cast their votes on the first day because of the increased number of polling stations. Mugabe supporters live mostly in the countryside.

[3] Scaring the anti-Mugabe voters.
There was also a heavy presence of the Zanu-PF militias (gangs that support President Mugabe). Some of them joined the lines of voters, spacing themselves out along the queues.

[4] Preventing checks on fairness.
Both the police and the gangs that support President Mugabe were very antagonistic towards local observers. Some had their fluorescent green "Election observer" tops ripped off their backs. Others were arrested.

How can we make sure that voting is fair?

[A] At the polling station

    Draw a plan of an acceptable polling booth. It is for use in poor and rich countries so must be cheap. The polling station should offer:

  • Secrecy for the voter.
  • A box that is tamper proof so the votes are safe.
  • A way to stop people from voting twice.
  • A way of checking that the voter is who they say they are.
  • A system that is fast and easy to use.
  • How can you stop one side's supporters trying to scare the others out of voting?
[B] When the votes are counted
    How can this be done fairly? Write out a set of rules the people counting must follow. Prompts: work in pairs, work in plain view, double check etc.
[C] Election observers
    Make a list of what sort of people should be checking up on the vote and explain how they should do it.

3) Extension activity
Write a letter to a local paper or produce a poster explaining to 18-year-olds why they should bother to vote.

4) Plenary
In the last British general election, for every ten people who could vote only six bothered. What would the voters of Zimbabwe think about this?

Should the law be changed to make voting compulsory ? (as in Australia)

Teachers' Background

  • Election results: Mr Tsvangirai 40% - Mr Mugabe 54%

  • Zimbabwe's defeated opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has said the presidential election was rigged and that Robert Mugabe's win is 'daylight robbery'.

  • A former teacher, President Mugabe made his name as a fighter in Zimbabwe's war of independence.

  • Commonwealth election observers, led by a Nigerian, condemned the election.

  • The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) observer team in Zimbabwe said that 'in general the elections were transparent, credible, free and fair'.

  • Before the results were announced, soldiers were deployed in potential flash-points across the country in case opposition supporters took to the streets.

  • In Yugoslavia street protests succeeded in unseating President Milosevic when the elections failed to do so.

  • If he stays in power for the full six-year term, Robert Mugabe will rule the country until the age of 84.

  • One of the undoubted achievements of Mugabe is the expansion of education. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa at 85% of the population.

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that Mr Mugabe is becoming a cartoon figure of the archetypal African dictator.

For all links and resources click at top right.

More InfoBORDER=0
WorldThousands queue to vote
WorldWorld slams 'unfair' election
Find OutGuide to the Commonwealth?


BBC Links
BBC News: Mugabe's descent into dictatorship


Web Links
Hansard Society
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