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Ruling party and proxies step up violence in run-up to national elections

State-sponsored shenanigans disqualify more candidates as opposition presidential contender pulls out

Opposition candidates, rights activists and journalists report a wave of attacks by ruling party thugs on the campaign trail ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on 23 August. State agencies, including the police and the courts are helping the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to disqualify or deter opposition candidates from contesting.

Most of this state-backed electoral interference is happening in plain sight in front of a heavy contingent of international observers from the European Union, African Union and the United States' Carter Center (AC Vol 64 No 15, Chamisa wrestles with the crocodile, again). They are there to assess conditions after the government said it would run free and fair elections as a condition to qualify for a debt restructuring deal.

Senior ruling party officials around President Emmerson Mnangagwa appear confident they have met the necessary conditions despite damning reports of conditions by local and international rights organisations.

'Cases of abductions, arbitrary arrests of opposition figures, critics of the government and other human rights abuses by ZANU-PF supporters and state security officials have operated to advance ZANU-PF's electoral interests', according to this month's report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The military have kept a lower profile than in previous election campaigns perhaps as a nod towards foreign observers. But the Accra-based Afrobarometer survery group found that 59% of Zimbabweans that they questioned fear political violence.

Intimidation of opposition supporters has increased. The Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded that, of the more than 200 incidents of violence or intimidation reported in the past month, 61% were committed by ZANU PF militants, 9% were committed by the newly-emerged ZANU campaign body Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (FAZ), and 8% by the police. Activists in the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) are being harassed and attacked for campaigning.

Earlier this month, Douglas Mwonzora, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), said he was pulling out of the presidential race after 87 of the party's parliamentary candidates were disqualified. The state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said they had paid their nomination fees late.

An ally of MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai, Mwonzora has been marginalised by Nelson Chamisa's Citizens Coalition for Change and has faced accusations from the CCC and others of accepting ZANU-PF benefits in return for splitting the opposition (AC Vol 63 No 7, The Change campaign changes hands).

Yet Mwonzora's decision to withdraw from the presidential race further damages the credibility of the polls and might also help the CCC at the margins.

The election commission had presided over 'massive disenfranchisement, mass disqualification of a good number of people,' said Mwonzora, criticising the biased redrawing of constituency boundaries by ZEC (AC Vol 64 No 10, ZANU-PF fires its electoral blunderbuss).

'There is no doubt the MDC is being treated in a different manner from other political parties,' he said, adding that 'right now, as we are speaking, ZEC is busy changing boundaries of wards and constituencies.'

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