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Jeff Flake on Zimbabwe’s Disputed Election: ‘Democracy Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This’

Jeff Flake in ZImbabwe 2 (Twitter, Marco Longari / Getty / AFP)
Twitter, Marco Longari / Getty / AFP

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is in Zimbabwe to observe the country’s first elections after the ouster of tyrant Robert Mugabe last year — and though the opposition claims the vote count was rigged, and the army has killed six protesters, Flake has blessed the result.

“It’s time for a new era of peace and prosperity,” Flake tweeted on Thursday, a day after the protesters were killed demonstrating against what the opposition alleges is fraud by the ruling party.

Emmerson Mnangagwa of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union -Popular Front (Zanu-PF) party was declared the winner by the curiously narrow margin of 50.8% — “just enough to scrape through the constitutional threshold of 50 percent plus one vote required to avoid a runoff,” according to the African News Agency (ANA). Mnangagwa defeated Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which called the result “fake.”

Flake had made no comment about the violence as of Friday morning. He also seemed less concerned than other international observers.

According to the Associated Press, “So far international observers have issued mixed reviews, calling Monday’s election peaceful and a break from the past but expressing grave concern about the military’s ‘excessive’ use of force. They criticized the [three-day] delay in releasing the results of the presidential vote, saying it raised concerns about possible manipulation.”

Flake seemed unconcerned about the Zimbabwean military, or whether the election was free and fair. At one point, observing a primitive hand count of votes by the light of kerosene lamps, he even tweeted: “Democracy doesn’t get any better than this.”

He did meet with both Mnangagwa and Chamisa on Wednesday, praising the country’s “continued progress.” If the election results are accepted by the international community, Zimbabwe could see the lifting of economic sanctions that date to the Mugabe era.

Mugabe subverted Zimbabwe’s democracy, killing political opponents and driving thousands of white farmers off the land.

Flake, a prominent figure in the “Never Trump” movement, has been one of President Donald Trump’s most vociferous critics, comparing the president to totalitarian dictators like Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. “How did we get swept up in this global resurgence of the authoritarian impulse, which now has democracies teetering on the brink, strongmen placing themselves above the law, and in our own country a leader who reveres some of the most loathsome enemies of democracy in our time?” Flake asked Harvard Law School graduates in May.

Last month, Flake slammed Trump for his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, declaring that Trump had “failed to summon reality in the face of a despot.”

Update: Flake issued a press statement Friday that addressed the violence and the uncertainty surrounding the election result:

Over the past several days, I have had the privilege of observing Zimbabwe’s historic elections. After decades of misrule by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe deserves to have a government worthy of its people.

After a day of peaceful voting on July 30th, the violence on August 1st that claimed the lives of at least six people and injured many more was a throwback to the old days. The use of the Zimbabwean military to respond to political protests, or the use of the police force to disrupt press conferences, does not signal a new era, rather it echoes a dreadful past.

In order to instill confidence in the election results, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must now make good on its commitment to release comprehensive polling data in a transparent manner that includes results from each polling station signed off by party agents who were present for the casting of ballots and the tabulation of results. Challenges to the results must be pursued through legal channels.

During my visit to nearly a dozen polling stations scattered throughout rural Zimbabwe, I saw citizens, some young and agile, others bent with age, walking miles for the chance to cast a vote that mattered. I saw representatives of ZANU PF and MDC Alliance sitting together, chatting amicably and helping each other keep proper tallies. In everyone I encountered, I saw the hope for a brighter, more democratic and prosperous future for Zimbabwe.

Here’s hoping that future is at hand.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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