May 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mugabe clings to absolute power

Ever since Zimbabwe held presidential elections on March 29, the country has been lingering in turmoil and suspense as people wait for the results to be announced. The incumbent President (for life?) Robert Mugabe has been using every trick at his disposal to hang onto power, including violent coercion. His clumsy attempts to manipulate the vote count cost him the support of former allies, and the use of police forces in order to silence the opposition has further polarized the country. Over the last few years, Zimbabwe has fallen prey to hyperinflation, with prices climbing at an annual rate of several thousand percent. Today, at last, it was announced that the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won a higher percentage of the vote than Mugabe, 47.9% to 43.2%, but without any candidate getting a majority, there will have to be a second-round election -- as long as Mugabe allows it, that is. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change accused election authorities of fraud. See BBC or CNN.com.

Mugabe, age 84, came to power in 1980 as leader of the Zambian [Zimbabwe] African National Union (ZANU) rebel movement that triumphed over the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith, who died last November. Smith had declared the British colony of Rhodesia to be an independent Republic in 1970, sparking a civil war between Whites and Blacks. The country was renamed "Zimbabwe" when African people won control, prompting a slow but steady exodus of white people, mostly farmers. The country's economy remained in terrible shape for the next two decades, and then it started to get even worse. Nevertheless, Mugabe, maintains control of the country through his "ZANU Popular Front," a coalition of political cronies whose loyalty is bought via government jobs and other favors. Until recently, at least, he maintained broad popularity by using "wedge issues" such as resentment toward the few White farmers who are left. He is a classic populist demagogue.

Whether Mugabe will abide by the voting results in the forthcoming second round election remains to be seen. After all, he made the cover of Parade magazine a couple months ago as one of the world's "Top Ten Dictators." Just last week, Zimbabwean riot police raided the offices of the opposition party and arrested hundreds of people. (See Washington Post.) To Mugabe's "grassroots" supporters, such actions are a sign of strong leadership. To any reasonable person, it would be obvious that Mugabe's tenure has been a total disaster. In short, he has destroyed his country's economic infrastructure, and it will take years to recover. It is hard to understand why a person with such a lousy track record would go to such extreme lengths to retain his power.

Kurt Michael's day in court

The farce that has become the local Republican scene became even more of a farce this past week, as Kurt Michael took the dispute to court. Depending on who you ask, he was either decisively defeated (141-103) or decisively won reelection (57-2) as Augusta County Republican chairman three weeks ago. After failing to appear at a fact-finding meeting on April 27 called by Sixth District Republican chairman Fred Anderson, either because of short notice or having had "more important" things to attend to (see News Leader), Kurt called that meeting "illegal" and filed a court injunction to force recognition that his election was valid, and to have his slate of convention delegates seated. This afternoon, Circuit Court Judge Victor Ludwig denied Michael's request for an injunction, though Kurt claimed to have achieved his goals. (Somebody call a spin doctor!) See News Leader.

It seems ironic that Kurt, the ultimate political insider, has apparently lost faith in the Republican Party hierarchy. (Another irony is that he is using litigation to achieve his ends, a tactic that is usually associated with Democrats. Can you say "frivolous lawsuit"?) He already has lost the support of a number of local "grassroots" who are growing weary at his manipulation of "wedge issues" and are aghast at the public disgrace that his antics have led to. "Stop the insanity!" This latest stunt will no doubt further erode his base of support, and it will take years for the local party organization to recover. I have no idea how the Sixth District Republican Committee will decide the matter tomorrow, though I know there is strong sympathy in favor of Kurt from the abrupt and highly irregular way long-time party loyalist Ray Ergenbright was forced out of the Committee last year.

From what little I have read in the Virginia right-wing blogosphere, there is still a grave misunderstanding of the actual political situation here in "SWAC Land." Eventually, however, the truth will come to light. It always does, one way or another...

Divisive? Divisive???

Let Kurt be Kurt! smile

New local bloggers

I've got a lot of catching up to do on various blog chores, such as updating my blogroll. Carl Tate, who (like me) served a brief stint as Secretary of the Staunton Republican Committee a couple years ago, has launched a new blog, The Virginia Hall of Justice. Carl is a very bright guy who works in for the Federal government in Washington (like I used to), but he spends a lot of his time here at home in Staunton.

Further to the north (and a bit toward the left), Megan Rhodes, a.k.a. "Whackette," recently ceased blogging for the Daily Whack Job, to my dismay, but she has now started a new solo blog: Sun Versus Wind. Hooray!

Finally, a guy in this area who is heavy into quantitative analysis has launched Blue Ridge Data. Ideologically, he is "located slightly left of center."