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

Tensions Mount as Election Decision Nears

The clock is ticking as Zimbabweans wait to hear who their next president will be, or whether the vote will go to a second round.
By Yamikani Mwando
The stage appears set for a showdown between the ZANU-PF regime and its opponents as the announcement of a result for Zimbabwe’s March 29 presidential election drags on.

Analysts have dismissed the possibility that Zimbabwe will see the kind of stand-off seen in the recent Kenyan elections, which led to widespread violence between rival factions. But residents of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, are braced for the worst, amid concerns that President Robert Mugabe may be about to attempt to force a result in his favour.

The parliamentary election results are already out, and they show a radical shift in power. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, ZEC, announced that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, had won 109 of the 210 seats in the lower House of Assembly, and ZANU-PF only 97..

Opposition supporters have cited the results posted outside individual polling stations as an indication that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai should get for a clean sweep. His MDC faction, the bigger of two that contested these general elections, has come up with a figure of 50.3 per cent, an absolute majority for Tsvangirai that, if confirmed, would obviate the need for a second round.

If neither of the two top candidates gets an absolute majority, the law dictates that they go into a second round within 21 days.

As the ZEC holds off on announcing a final figure, the public mood is tense amid fears that Mugabe might seek to secure a run-off, whatever the true result is, and then ensure he wins it by unleashing the kind of officially-sanctioned violence seen in past elections.

Apparently sensing this mood, riot police and armed soldiers have become more visible on the streets. This week, police began dispersing groups of people as the controversial Public Order and Security Act was invoked.

“We were at our usual spot where we sell fuel, when a truck-load of police stopped and asked what meeting we were holding and ordered us to disperse,” a young man selling petrol on the black market told IWPR.

There are growing signs that the presidential race – seen by many as a contest over Zimbabwe’s future - is going to be protracted and dirty. A United States newspaper quoted a ZANU-PF insider as saying the government was deliberately delaying the announcement of the result in a bid to “manage” the public response to a declaration of victory by Mugabe.

A news editor with a privately-owned weekly predicted, “It’s going to be terrible.”

At the same time, analysts point out that Zimbabwe – for all its many problems - lacks the combustible elements for the kind of inter-ethnic violence that flared up in Kenya in December and eventually left over 1,000 people dead.

In that country, Kikuyu and Luo communities were closely identified with the two presidential candidates, and tit-for-tat attacks appeared to focus on ethnicity.

In Zimbabwe, Bulawayo is – like surrounding regions - predominantly Ndebele, yet voters in this city tend to back the MDC, which is largely led by Shona politicians who represent the country’s majority ethnic group. They see ZANU-PF, not another ethnic group, as their enemy. Analysts say this has helped keep ethnicity out of decisions about political allegiances.

According to one political analyst here, this factor could help prevent an outbreak of street violence.

“Even if we see a disputed outcome, we are not likely to see street protests,” said the analyst, who did not want to be named but is a member of the smaller MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara and was himself defeated in the local council elections held simultaneously with the presidential and parliamentary ballots.

He insisted, “No one should die because ZANU-PF stole the elections. There must other ways to deal with such an outcome.”

IWPR spoke to a university student who was among the many people in Bulawayo who turned out to vote in large numbers after boycotting previous elections.

Expressing a sentiment many here would echo, the student said, “Events in the next 48 hours are very crucial for Zimbabwe. They will make or break us for good.”

Yamikani Mwando is the pseudonym of a reporter in Zimbabwe.

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