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

Mugabe Dead Set on First-Round Win

For the first time since 1980, a presidential election could go to a second round, but analysts say President Robert Mugabe will do his level best to stop that happening.
By Mike Nyoni
Recent assertions by President Robert Mugabe that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, is bound to lose the weekend elections have heightened suspicions that he plans to fix the result.

Mugabe, probably facing his most uncertain electoral outcome to date, told a campaign rally in Chitungwiza, 30 kilometres from the capital Harare, that the MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai will never rule Zimbabwe “in my lifetime”.

This categorical statement has increased fears that victory for Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party in the March 29 polls is a foregone conclusion and will be secured through ballot-stuffing, voter intimidation, and manipulation of the final figures.

On March 17, Mugabe introduced the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act which authorises police to be stationed inside polling stations and to assist disabled voters. This clearly increases the risk that security forces will be in a position to intimidate voters and influence the choices they make. Critics say this move, coming late in the day, is in direct contravention of an agreement to keep police away from voting centres, concluded by ZANU-PF and the MDC at the recent talks mediated by the Southern African Development Community, SADC.

Surveys of attendance at pro- and anti-Mugabe campaign rallies show the incumbent trailing Tsvangirai by a growing margin.

In the unlikely event that the results showed a defeat for Mugabe, he would not take it lying down. Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwengwa and Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri recently made it clear they would not accept any other winner.

What is more probable is that the presidential election will go to a second round, for the first time since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.

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. With evidence that support for Mugabe is waning, it is uncertain whether he will gain the required absolute majority, although it remains unlikely that either of his main challengers – the MDC’s Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni – will do so, either.

According to Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, Mugabe will make every effort to avoid being embarrassed by being forced into a run-off. He suggested that this makes it all the more likely that the first-round results will be massaged at the national command centre where the final count will take place.

There has been talk that if the first-round voting appeared to be going against him, Mugabe might call a halt to it, or alternatively that he might postpone a re-run.

But as Masunungure put it, “all these are academic discussions and speculation” as the president will take steps to prevent his electoral ambitions going awry.

“Mugabe will not allow himself to go through all this pain. That explains his insistence that no opposition leader or party will win the elections even this late in the hour. He knows he has played his cards well,” he said.

Both Tsvangirai and Mugabe have been drawing huge crowds at their respective campaign rallies. There are allegations that Mugabe is coercing adult voters and schoolchildren to attend his events, while Tsvangirai is also bussing in people to boost numbers at his rallies.

Meanwhile, although Makoni - expelled from ZANU-PF shortly after announcing his election bid in February - has no political party of his own, and few resources to boost his campaign, he has unsettled both the Mugabe and Tsvangirai camps, which have attacked him out of concern that he will win over their supporters.

As the election draws near, the lines have blurred between the traditional rural power-base of ZANU-PF party and the MDC’s strength in urban areas. In particular, commentators say it has got harder for Mugabe to persuade rural voters that he can save them from economic hardship.

In the past, said one analyst in Harare, Mugabe was able to use food as a vote-winner. “This time, there is nothing to give to the people, and they are starving,” he said. “He has been able to distribute farming equipment under the farm mechanisation programme, but people have immediate needs to feed their families.”

This analyst noted that in contrast to past elections, this campaign has been marked by a lack of overt violence perpetrated by youth militias and veterans. This fact, he said, had given people more options.

“People are freer now than they have ever been to attend opposition rallies,” he said. “One cannot rule out the psychological fear from past experience, but we can see that people are now venturing out to see for themselves. Others realise voting to get rid of Mugabe is the only option they have left; it doesn’t really matter who comes in.”

He said there was clear evidence that more people were attending opposition rallies than was the case in the past, and noted that there was little attempt by state media to hide this reality.

“The best Mugabe can do now is to try and intimidate people so that they don’t go to vote,” said the analyst. “He is already telling people that their vote doesn’t count, as he did in Bulawayo.”

Addressing a rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, on March 23, Mugabe warned those who backed the opposition that they would be wasting their vote.

Bulawayo and the two Matabeleland provinces have voted overwhelmingly for the MDC since 2000.

“You can vote for them [MDC] but that will be a wasted vote,” declared Mugabe. “You will be cheating yourself as there is no way we can allow them to rule this country. The MDC will not rule this country. It will never ever happen.”

The statement was uncannily similar to proclamations by Ian Smith, the last prime minister of what was then Rhodesia, who said black people would “never in a thousand years” rule the country.

The analyst suggested that Mugabe’s options were running out – even rigging the election could get him into trouble with the SADC, whose member states used to back him when no one else did.

“The old man is finished. This time he is in a fix. Not even SADC can save him now that regional economies are bleeding because of Mugabe’s policies,” he said.

Mike Nyoni is the pseudonym of a reporter in Zimbabwe.

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