Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

First-Round Win for Mugabe Looks Uncertain

Key players in the regime reportedly agree that rigging a straight win for the incumbent just won’t work.
By Nonthando Bhebhe
President Robert Mugabe might be forced to settle for a run-off election because even with some massaging of the figures, the returns so far suggest he is not going to get the absolute majority he needs.

Sources in the ruling ZANU-PF party said on March 31 that Mugabe was preparing to announce a landslide victory after a meeting the previous day where top military and police chiefs are reported to have agreed to rig the numbers so as to produce a 52 per cent straight win in the presidential ballot.

However, this has become problematic because Mugabe’s chief rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, who head the bigger of two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, has polled much better than Mugabe in results which are already posted at polling stations and are therefore in the public domain.

Some members of ZANU-PF’s politburo believe a run-off would be the best way to avoid the widespread violence which might follow an obvious vote-rigging exercise where the official result did not tally with local figures.

By law, the winning candidate must obtain over 50 per cent of the votes cast; if no one achieves this, the two leading candidates go forward to a second round within 21 days of the ballot.

The politburo met late on March 30 to discuss the implications of the security chiefs’ decision to arrange a 52 per cent victory for Mugabe. Sources in the party’s ruling body say security and intelligence bosses have since been persuaded that the plan will not work, because of the huge margins by which Mugabe appears to have lost.

IWPR understands that Tsvangirai is likely to get at least 46 to 48 per cent of the vote, while Mugabe will trail with 45 per cent, forcing a run-off between these two candidates. The third major player, Simba Makoni, the former finance minister who jumped ship from the Mugabe regime last month to launch an independent election bid, appears to have performed poorly.

Late on March 31, the independent Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, ZESN, projected similar figures, telling a press conference that Tsvangirai would get 49.4 percent with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 per cent, while Mugabe would achieve 41.8 per cent.

If ZESN’s high-side margin of error proves accurate, Tsvangirai would emerge as the outright winner. MDC secretary general Tendai Biti remains adamant that the candidate will secure an absolute win, while the MDC claims Tsvangirai is leading with about 60 per cent.

The presidential election was held simultaneously with ballots for both houses of parliament and for local councils. Biti says that even in constituencies where ZANU-PF has won the parliamentary seat, Tsvangirai has done better than Mugabe in the presidential poll. If true, this would imply that thousands of Mugabe supporters have rebelled against him personally rather than his party as a whole.

At the same time, Biti’s figures are being questioned by the media since they seem to be based on incomplete evidence. Biti told journalists that the worst case scenario would be a run-off, not a win for Mugabe.

In the parliamentary polls, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is reportedly going to announce that ZANU-PF has won with 111 of the 210 seats in the lower chamber, the House of Assembly. By contrast, the MDC announced on the morning of March 31 that it was leading in 100 of the 128 constituencies where vote counts had already been posted up.

Early on April 1, Reuters news agency reported that of the 109 House of Assembly seats for which official results had been declared, ZANU-PF had taken 53 and the MDC 51. The smaller MDC faction, led by Arthur Mutambara, had only five seats at that point.

The situation remains tense in the capital Harare, with a heavy police presence. Many people are staying out of the city for fear of a spontaneous revolt if Mugabe claims victory in the presidential polls.

Nonthando Bhebhe is the pseudonym of a journalist in Harare.

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