Vote could salvage Zimbabwe's future

Election: Citizens have a chance to curtail excesses of the president, who is wrecking the country.

June 24, 2000

ZIMBABWE is going downhill as though plunging over its own Victoria Falls, but it has a chance to get a grip and stop the slide. That is this weekend's parliamentary election and depends on the willingness of President Robert Mugabe to let the popular will prevail.

But there is little sign that he will. Opposition politicians have been murdered, voters intimidated, half the foreign observers banned. The 76-year-old Mr. Mugabe, in power since 1980, seems bent on destroying his country to perpetuate his possession of it.

Known previously as Rhodesia, the landlocked country of 12 million people attained recognized independence two decades after most of Africa and gained majority black rule before South Africa.

The current crisis began in 1998 as an economic meltdown, in response to which trade unions led by Morgan Tsvangirai launched a paralyzing strike. Mr. Mugabe made himself more despised by sending 11,000 Zimbabwean troops to intervene in the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war, in return for a share of the diamond mines that war is about.

Mr. Mugabe packed a constitutional convention and put the redrafted charter to a referendum in February. The voters rejected it, humiliating him.

Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party controls 147 of the 150 seats in parliament, but 120 are up for election. Indications are that Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an opposition party organized by Mr. Tsvangirai, would win a fair vote.

So as a distraction, Mr. Mugabe sent thugs to seize prosperous farms owned by whites, a 1-percent minority. The tobacco cash crop rotted unsold. Tourists vanished as violence took on a racial aspect.

In the name of redressing past colonial wrongs, Mr. Mugabe is destroying Zimbabwe.

MDC victory would leave Mr. Mugabe president but create balance. Zimbabwe may not have saved democracy, but only democracy can save Zimbabwe.

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