Thursday, April 03, 2008

Where now for Zimbabwe?

Well, the MDC appear to have won a very narrow majority in Parliament - probably a much narrower majority than a properly counted contest would have revealed - and look likely to have out-polled Mugabe even in the official count of the Presidential poll. But the question remains: what next?
It looks incredibly unlikely that Tsvangirai will be awarded more than 50% of the votes in the Presidential election. While it is highly probable that his actual tally was in the 60% region, ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging will be enough to make a second-round run-off inevitable. The question then will be what Mugabe will do. I doubt he will go quietly into retirement, whether in his $24m mansion in Borrowdale, or into exile in Malaysia. Mugabe's style is better fitted to raging against the dying of the light. Even at 84 I would be surprised to see him go down without a fight - even if he risks bringing the whole of Zimbabwe down with him.
So - will he resort to political violence or vote-fixing? Or both? It has been pointed out that last week's election featured a combination of strategies: first the suborning of the elctoral commission (done many years ago) then the systematic gerry-mandering of constituencies to increase the number in the rural areas where he is strong and decrease representation in the towns where he is weak; added to this was the total bias of the media, which is predominantly state run. All this was carried out well before the election took place. As it took place there was a combination of intimidation at polling stations and early closures in opposition areas. After it took place there was ballot-stuffing and miscounting. It was, in fact, a master-class in how to steal an election, with only one flaw - it's crashing lack of subtelty.
One thing that wasn't much of a feature this time around was open political violence. Unlike in previous elections, there were no reported killings, and not much outright thuggery. The risk is that, if there really is a run-off between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, this last option will be seen as Mugabe's last chance of clinging onto power. It might be about to get very messy.
Is there any way of avoiding this? Is there anyone to cut a deal? As I've mentioned before, the powers behind the tottering Mugabe throne are Emerson Mnangagwa and Solomon Mujuru, whose wife lost her seat in the election. Both have been positioning themselves as Mugabe's successors, and it is to them that Mugabe will be turning to keep him in power. A lot now depends on where these two aging thugs see their best chance of survival. Watch out for Constantino Chiwenga as well, the head of the army will be a bellwether here - if he moves away from Mugabe, it's all over for the old tyrant.

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