Financial Times/Staff Writer.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai hinted yesterday that his party might change its stance and take part in the parliamentary election next March if President Mugabe’s re
gime put an end to political violence.
His Movement for Democratic Change party suspended participation in all elections earlier this year until the government met conditions for a free and fair ballot.
He said party members would take a decision in the next three weeks on whether to stand in the March election, the first national poll since Mugabe’s re-election as president in 2002 in a contest condemned by most international observers for intimidation and vote-rigging.
In an interview with the Financial Times in London, Tsvangirai said violence against opponents of the regime was “the really critical issue”. The MDC had other demands including an impartial electoral commission and free media access.
But Tsvangirai accepted “we may not get 100%”. If the MDC stayed out of this contest, it would have to wait until the next presidential ballot in 2008.
Without seeking to prejudge the decision, he added: “My gut feeling is that the majority of Zimbabweans want to go in (to the elections), want to participate regardless of the conditions.”
Tsvangirai, one of Africa’s best-known opposition figures, was due to arrive back in Zimbabwe yesterday after a tour of African and European capitals, the first foreign trip he has been allowed to take for two-and-a-half years.
He regained his passport when he was acquitted last month after a long-running trial on charges of plotting to have Mugabe assassinated. He still faces separate treason charges for attempting to overthrow the government in mass protests called last year.
Tsvangirai called on European governments to support polling guidelines agreed in August by leaders of the 14-member Sadc, to assist with the training and deployment of Sadc election monitors and to raise the profile of the Zimbabwe issue in the United Nations.
He was careful to avoid criticising the “quiet diplomacy” approach of South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, who has sought unsuccessfully to promote a negotiated outcome to Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.
If the MDC fought the next election and won a parliamentary majority, it would have to negotiate a transition deal with Mugabe.
The party had contacts with members of the ruling Zanu PF party who favoured change, Tsvangirai said.
“We talk to them, but they all plead helplessness,” he said. “Of course, they are just cowards, that’s all.”
* Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has urged the MDC to decide quickly against a boycott of the forthcoming parliamentary vote and develop a unified strategy if it is to make the most of the election.
“The MDC should conduct a full campaign,” ICG’s South Africa project director Peter Kagwanja said in a report published this week.
“If the right electoral environment can be created — a big ‘if’ — there is a chance to reverse the slide towards national and regional chaos. If not, the international community will soon need to consider tougher measures in less favourable circumstances.”
ICG Africa programme director Suliman Baldo added: “The chance the elections scheduled for March 2005 can be a genuine turning point is small, but it is there if African leaders push the Zanu PF regime to live up to its commitments.
“The regime wants a C-minus election — fairly clean on election day but deeply flawed by months of non-democratic practices that determine the results in advance. African monitoring teams need to be in the country by January 1 2005 and then press hard for the creation of a level electoral field.”