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

Mugabe Ups Ante With Election Call

President suggests poll as way of breaking the current political impasse, but some dismiss it as brinkmanship.
By Jabu Shoko
President Robert Mugabe has held out the prospect of fresh elections as tensions rise in the country over the stalled power-sharing deal between ZANU-PF and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC.

In a desperate attempt to save the deal he brokered three months ago, former South African president Thabo Mbeki last week despatched his point men, Frank Chikane and Sydney Mafamadi, to Zimbabwe.

But it was a vain attempt: Mugabe told his party faithful to be ready for elections in less than two years, while opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai insisted the MDC would not be party to a coalition government in which it is a junior partner.

“We can go to an election if elections are desirable and the people are the deciders and we will never reject their verdict,” Mugabe told his supporters on December 11 at the burial of ZANU-PF national commissar Elliot Manyika, who was killed in a car crash.

Mugabe charged that Tsvangirai, who outpolled him in the March 29 elections, but did not garner enough votes to secure the presidency, should not fool himself that the MDC won the poll.

“The MDC did not win the elections. They led. The law says if you don’t get more than 50 per cent you do not win,” said Mugabe.

His comments on fresh elections echoed similar remarks he made after a ZANU-PF politburo meeting on December 4.

“We agreed to give them [the MDC] 13 ministries while we share the ministry of home affairs, but if this arrangement fails to work in the next one-and-a half years to two years then we go for elections,” he said.

Some analysts who spoke to IWPR said Mugabe, exasperated by Tsvangirai’s refusal to enter government as a junior partner, was not seriously considering new elections but rather employing brinkmanship.

They noted that the economic meltdown and the escalating humanitarian crisis did not augur well for ZANU-PF electoral prospects.

Mugabe “knows it himself that he is not serious about fresh elections”, said Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe. “His proposal is not a viable possibility because of the real situation on the ground. I also don’t see the African Union and SADC [the Southern African Development Community] endorsing that because there is no money and such a proposal will not achieve any desirable objective.”

Still, Useni Sibanda, a political commentator and coordinator of the Christian Alliance of Zimbabwe, said it would be folly to ignore Mugabe’s utterances. Sibanda said considering his body language and the tone of his speeches to the ZANU-PF faithful, Mugabe already appears as if he’s fighting an election.

“These remarks should not be taken lightly; Tsvangirai’s political machinations in the negotiations are increasingly exasperating Mugabe. So he believes another election will deliver victory for him, which has been elusive for the past eight years. The opposition should remain on guard,” he said.

Sibanda said there were hardliners in ZANU-PF who held the firm view that the violent strategy used in the run-up to the June 27 presidential one-man race should be re-employed in future elections.

Sibanda also noted that the government media was increasingly portraying the opposition leader in the same mould as the late former rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, who waged a guerrilla war against the Angolan government for more than a decade.

On December 16, the daily government newspaper, The Herald, carried a cartoon in which Tsvangirai was depicted wearing the military fatigues of a rebel leader. The government media has also been linking Tsvangirai to “bandits” who they claim are being trained in Botswana, a claim that has brought heated denials from Botswana president Ian Khama.

Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, has also dismissed Mugabe’s assertions that the MDC is training insurgents in neighbouring Botswana. “We are not training bandits,” he told IWPR.

“In fact the MDC is a de facto government of the day. We control parliament; the chairman of the MDC, Lovemore Moyo, is the speaker of parliament; and the president of the MDC is the prime minister-designate. So how does the MDC, which is controlling government, want to destroy that?”

The MDC, he added, would pursue constitutional, peaceful and democratic means to bring change in Zimbabwe.

The accusations of bandits being trained in Botswana to bring down the current regime, continued Biti, “are works of fiction by a regime that has been cornered”.

“ZANU-PF wants to declare a state of emergency. This regime has failed. In fact, the crackdown has already started. But the fact of the matter is that you can't silence the people of Zimbabwe. You can't silence the hunger that is stalking out there,” he said.

The MDC welcomed calls for fresh presidential elections, provided these would be supervised and managed by the international community, including the AU, SADC and the United Nations.

He said Mugabe’s call for fresh elections was an admission that he did not win the June 27 one-man presidential run-off, “The only unfinished business is the run-off presidential election of June 27, 2008 not the harmonised elections of March 29, 2008.”

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Zimbabwe.

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