Could FIFA's Sepp Blatter be practising to be Zimbabwe's next president?

Jun 2, 2011

Sepp Blatter has just been voted back into office as president of FIFA, soccer's international governing body. Many people think this will be his last four-year term office. If so, he will be looking for another big challenge to take on.

Zimbabwe is a troubled nation just beginning to tentatively try to work itself out of a decade of political turmoil and economic decline. It's only president for its 31 years of independence, Robert Mugabe, says he will be a candidate in the next election, expected within the next year. If he does indeed stand it can be confidently predicted that he will officially 'win.' Even if so, it seems fairly obvious that in a few years Zimbabwe will be shopping for a new president, Mugabe already being 87 years old.

The coincidence of pending events in Blatter's career and those in Zimbabwe could provide an interesting match-making opportunity. 
Mugabe says he must present himself as a candidate in the upcoming election at his advanced age out of  of a sense of duty to his party and to the country. There is no one he believes is presently up to the task of succeeding him, you see.

So, could Sepp Blatter not be the ideal person to continue the legacy of the Zimbabwean incumbent?

Blatter is accused of being all-powerful at the FIFA, some going so far as to accuse him of being an autocrat. Governance structures are said to be weak, and disproportinate power rests with the president. That includes the power to dispense patronage and favours on supporters, and to makes opponents squirm. These 'skills' count for a lot at election time, or during periods of scandal.

In Zimbabwe too the concept of 'president' as chief public servant does not exist. The holder of the position is instead a virtual monarch.

Challenging the president is rare to unheard of in Zimbabwe, and those foolish enough to try risk broken limbs or worse, as has been graphically, publicly shown over the years. As long as the army, police and other power enforcement arms are kept on team, a long incumbency is guaranteed.

One couldn't help but see the parallels in the recent FIFA presidential election. The lone challenger allegedly tried 'campaign tactics' that in set-ups of this type are usually only permissible for the incumbent. As a result of his flying too close to the sun by daring to challenge that incumbent he got burned and crashed down to earth, where well-organised teams of the incumbent's supporters were on hand to finish him off.

Given the controversial nature of the suspension of the president's challenger, a few FIFA voices argued for the postponement of the scheduled presidential election. 'A one-man election, and one in which the challenger has been disqualified in such controversial circumstances,' they argued, 'will taint the already battered reputation of the organization, and also call into the question the legitimacy of the unopposed winner.'

What these reasonable-sounding but naive voices in the wilderness did not understand was that it's not about being seen to be credible or 'legitimate,' its about holding on to power, period. If there is an unfortunate conflict between being seen to be 'legitimate' and doing whatever it takes to stay in power, 'legitimacy' loses every single time.

That's just how the deadly, high stakes presidential election game is played in Zimbabwe. During the last election in 2008 the incumbent and his hangers on feared defeat from the first serious challenge of his tenure. The election tactic was to unleash a pre-election 'campaign' of terror in which thousands of people were beaten and hundreds maimed and killed. It got so bad that the presidential challenger decided to withdraw from a second round of voting in which he was widely expected to win.

That withdrawal didn't bother the incumbent in the least. He was quite happy to 'win' the election in such messy circumstances, and hastily arranged a swearing in after the announced of the 'results,' whose release was delayed for weeks while certain 'engineering' of an undefined nature was conducted by an election machinery he controlled.

There are many parallels between FIFA's and Zimbabwe's processes of conducting elections and wielding power.


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