Zimbabwe presidential election

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, at a news conference on the eve of the country's presidential election, has promised to step down if he loses. But a mystery political analyst guiding voters through Facebook posts replete with insider information from Mugabe's leadership has warned that the long-serving president and his supporters are planning to fix the results. (Aaron Ufumeli / European Pressphoto Agency / July 30, 2013)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Amid fears that Zimbabwe is headed for another disputed election, the observer to whom almost every Zimbabwean is turning for guidance is an anonymous "concerned father" and alleged renegade member of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, with more than 300,000 Facebook followers.

Mugabe has offered a $300,000 reward for the arrest of the Facebook figure, "Baba Jukwa," who launched his page in March and seems to have so much inside knowledge that many believe he is in the ZANU-PF hierarchy.

On Tuesday's eve of the vote, Baba Jukwa issued a flurry of Facebook updates, exposing an alleged state intelligence agent whom he said planned to identify and abduct anti-Mugabe campaigners in the Mufakose area, and citing a source in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission as exposing plans to stage a 54% outright win for Mugabe.

Mugabe, 89, who has ruled for 33 years, promised Tuesday at a Harare news conference that he would step down if not reelected.

"If you lose, you must surrender to those who won. We will do so," he told reporters, denying his party has ever rigged a vote.

"We have done no cheating -- never, ever," he said.

His nemesis, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has shared in an uneasy government with Mugabe since 2009, after a disputed election the previous year, has said he has no confidence in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. He threatened to release his own election results if there is any delay in the official announcement.

Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, issues its supporters red campaign T-shirts and its followers raise an open palm salute (in contrast to Mugabe's trademark closed fist).

In an opinion piece published Tuesday in the Washington Post, Tsvangirai accused the ZANU-PF of rigging the vote.

"Robert Mugabe is attempting to steal Zimbabwe’s most important election. In the past month alone, Mugabe manipulated the already shambled voters' rolls, keeping hundreds of thousands of eligible people from registering; abused presidential powers to change election laws; and unilaterally declared an illegal election. These are actions of a party whose ideology has failed but whose thirst for the personal spoils of power remains," he wrote.

In 2008, the commission delayed releasing election results for five weeks. The results showed Tsvangirai had more votes than Mugabe but not the outright majority required for a first-round win. Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff as the ZANU-PF thugs unleashed violence across Zimbabwe, with 200 people killed.

In response to Times questions via Facebook messaging, Baba Jukwa predicted Tuesday that Tsvangirai would win but that the ruling party, powerful security chiefs and the Electoral Commission would conspire to steal the election.

"Yes, Tsvangirai will win, but rigging might take its toll," he said. Mugabe "will try to refuse to go, but I believe Tsvangirai will fight for office," he said, criticizing the complacent approach of observers from the African Union, who last week suggested conditions were in place for a free and fair election. South African Development Community observers have also expressed satisfaction in the preparations by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

"It's sad AU and SADC are quiet on [rigging]," said Baba Jukwa, who has published the phone numbers of the observers on his page, urging Zimbabweans to report irregularities to them.

Development community observers urged moderation during the vote, calling on "all political players to remain calm and exercise restraint in their actions and to avoid hate speech that would compromise the current peaceful atmosphere ahead of the polls."

Many in Zimbabwe credit Baba Jukwa with predicting the death of a ruling party lawmaker, Edward Chindori-Chininga, in June, after he was accused of leaking information to Tsvangirai's party. Baba Jukwa published a photograph of Chindori-Chininga's car smashed into a tree but with the driver's compartment largely intact and the windshield unbroken. He claimed the "accident" was really a murder by ZANU-PF thugs. (Allegations have frequently been made that the ZANU-PF uses staged car accidents to kill disloyal party members.)

He also claims on his Facebook page that the former army chief, Solomon Mujuru, who died in a 2011 house fire, was killed by the ruling party. He claims he gathered information "when I was in government" and decided in March that the time was right to expose Mugabe and his regime.

"This is not only revealing secrets, but letting people know the truth about evil Mugabe and his inner circle," he said in the Facebook answers to The Times. "I won’t rest until I take these evil people to prison. I want to create a freedom of speech for everyone in the country and let the country and world know of these evil people."

The International Crisis Group predicts disputed elections, saying conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist.

"A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely, as Zimbabwe holds inadequately prepared presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist," says a recent ICG report, titled "Mugabe's Last Stand."

The crisis group's analyst for Southern Africa, Piers Pigou, criticized the failure of Zimbabwean electoral authorities to release an electronic copy of the voter rolls in full to all parties well before polling day. Hard copies of the rolls were only made available Monday in ward centers where voting will take place.

"These guys are not behaving in a way that instills confidence, and that's a problem," Pigou said, also criticizing African observers for their muted objections to the obvious problems, such as media bias, support for Mugabe by the country's powerful security chiefs and lack of public confidence in the Electoral Commission.

"This all adds to a problematic environment," Pigou said. He added that the observers "cannot ignore the fact that senior political leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai are raising their concerns about the election. It feeds the suspicion that they [African observers] might be biased, and that in itself cannot be helpful."

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