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Mugabe in panic mode

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PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is in panic mode due to the turmoil in his ruling Zanu PF and a surging tide of support for his main rivals ahead of the critical elections in two weeks’ time, it became evident this week.

Informed sources said Mugabe is panicking because of the growing fear that more senior members of his divided party would resign at a critical time. Furthermore, his campaign team is disjointed and incoherent, unrest is worsening among public servants, including soldiers and police, a groundswell of discontent is rising among villagers, and divisions rocking state security agencies are widening.

Barely-veiled threats of a coup by army commanders if Mugabe’s rivals win also reveal the depth of anxiety in the corridors of power, inside sources say.

There is also a problem of funds. Zanu PF is said to be putting pressure on Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono to print more money on a large scale to bankroll its campaign. Gono was not available for comment as he was said to be in Abuja, Nigeria, for a meeting.

Events within Zanu PF and on the campaign trail are said to have shaken Mugabe to the point where his advisors and campaign managers now fear that he is staring defeat in the face. Short of rigging, his rivals say, Mugabe is unable to win.

Realising this, the electoral machinery has been geared to manipulate the vote in his favour. State security agents, including what are called “Boys on Leave”, are understood to be in charge of the electoral process, although civilians remain the face of it. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which conducts elections, is chaired by a Mugabe appointee, Justice George Chiweshe, a retired Brigadier-General (Judge Advocate General), who retired from the army in April 2001.

Chiweshe, currently based at a local hotel for the elections, was heavily criticised by the opposition after the 2005 general election for alleged vote-rigging. The number of votes appeared not to tally after figures announced on state television were different from those released by the commission.

Sources said a crack team of state agents is believed to be working day and night to ensure a desired result for Mugabe even though surveys clearly show his rivals, Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai, are occupying much of the electoral ground.

A survey conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute shows as of this week Mugabe was sitting at 20,3% of the vote, Makoni 8,6%, and Tsvangirai at 28,3%. However, the Institute says a lot of votes are still up for grabs as a number of voters refused to disclose their choices. At least 23,5% said their vote was their secret, 7,5% had nothing to say, 5,4% will not vote, 4,4% said “I don’t know”, 1,9% were categorised as “other”, and 1% will vote for Langton Towungana.

The survey shows the levels of support for each of the candidates is likely to change as campaigns unfold towards voting day.

Political scientist Professor Eldred Masunungure who heads the MPOI said the message from the survey was none of the presidential election candidates would win an outright majority.

“With all things being equal no one will gain 51% of the vote in the first round and that there will be a run-off is almost certain,” Masunungure said. “No party will be able to gain a two-thirds majority in the House of Assembly, and by extension, in the Senate. I am not sure what is likely to happen at the local government level.”
This week, the state was planning to roll out its own survey to ascertain the extent of the opposition to Mugabe’s rule. The survey will be led by University of Zimbabwe academics aligned to Zanu PF.

Informed sources in Mugabe’s campaign camp say the veteran leader is alarmed by the chaos in Zanu PF unleashed by the breakaway of Makoni and party heavyweight Dumiso Dabengwa. Mugabe’s remarks at rallies about Makoni and Dabengwa, observers say, and his strained tone reveal more worry than confidence. Dabengwa said the coup threats by service chiefs would not work.

The sources said Mugabe was nervous because he knew the depth of the problem surrounding the political turbulence triggered by Makoni and Dabengwa’s departure. The two are reportedly being supported by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru and retired General Vitalis Zvinavashe. The whole Mujuru faction is also said to be behind Makoni.

Mugabe tried this week to contain the growing crisis by meeting Mujuru on Monday in a similar way he met Makoni in January when speculation of a breakaway started swirling. Mugabe said Mujuru told him he was not involved in the Makoni initiative, the same line Makoni gave to Mugabe. Dabengwa also initially said he was not involved. This has been the same signal given by Zvinavashe. Mujuru and Zvinavashe are expected to soon join Makoni and Dabengwa if things go according to plan.

Sources said Mugabe was worried because he knew that all those denying involvement and attacking Makoni and Dabengwa in public were either involved or were sympathisers. These include co-Vice-Presidents Joseph Msika and Joice Mujuru. Msika said the Zanu PF presidium was seeking a meeting with Makoni and Dabengwa to discuss the issue, showing the levels of concern in the corridors of power.

Dabengwa said he was prepared to attend such a meeting but would tell Mugabe to step down. Mujuru and Dabengwa recently tried to meet with Muagbe — using Msika and politburo member Sydney Sekeramayi as go-betweens — to discuss the crisis in Zanu PF but they failed, leaving them with no option but take the bull by the horns.

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