Zimbabwe: Tyranny by Choice

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An interesting thing has happened in Zimbabwe. Thursday’s parliamentary elections were the most peaceful the country has had in years. The widespread voter intimidation of previous elections was nowhere to be seen.

And what was the result? A landslide victory for Zanu-PF, with a probable 2/3 majority in parliament.

No, the elections were not “free and fair”. The more I read coming out of Zimbabwe, the more convinced I am that some degree of voter fraud took place. But were these elections a genuine expression of the national will of the Zimbabwean people? I’m probably going to get criticised for this, but I think they were. You can steal some votes, but not that many. Not enough to give Zanu-PF the massive majority we’re looking at.

There’s always been this unspoken assumption that if only Zimbabweans could vote freely in unrigged elections, they would ditch Mugabe in a heartbeat. Well, guess what: that’s not true. Political analysts need to face up to the fact that this election was peaceful in part because Zanu-PF is popular. In the past, when Zanu-PF has felt really threatened, they’ve always resorted to violence. This time round, they knew they would win, so they figured they could take it easy.

How could this happen? Why would anyone willingly vote to keep the current government in power? Trying to imagine what motivates an ordinary Zanu-PF voter is no easy task. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of 382%: it is undergoing the sort of economic collapse experienced by the Weimar Republic. In most countries, there would be mass uprisings against the government. In Zimbabwe? The people happily vote them back into power, except with an even bigger majority.

Freedom and democracy are supposed to go together. People even tend to say them as one word: “freedom-and-democracy”. But what happens when the normal metrics break down? When people vote in favour of their own oppression?

Perhaps we need to rethink a few fundamental assumptions.