IT is becoming increasingly clear the looming presidential election run-off will be a monumental charade. By every measure at the moment it is as plain as a pikestaff that the election will be a farce.
It will probably be the biggest sham poll since Independence in 1980.
There has been a rapid dramatic change in the objective conditions on the ground since the controversial March elections which shocked President Robert Mugabe and his now vanquished Zanu PF. The situation remains in a state of flux three weeks before the run-off and it can only get worse.
In his do-or-die battle for political survival, Mugabe is lashing out in every direction. All the state instruments of coercion at his command have been mobilised and deployed to prevent his looming Waterloo. There is a covert but brutal military campaign for him going on.
Thus political repression is fast rising. Opposition leaders and supporters, civil society activists, diplomats, journalists and ordinary dissenters have been arrested on a massive scale. This entrenched pattern of repression is aimed at creating a climate of fear before the critical run-off.
On Wednesday, repression intensified after opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested in Lupane on his campaign trail in the south-western region. Prior to that he had been blocked on Tuesday from holding rallies in the same region that has become the main opposition stronghold.
Any opposition leader who currently wants to win an election has to carry with him the region where Mugabe is always a write-off before every poll. Mugabe only manages to pick up votes in Matabeleland due to the lack of strategy and division in the opposition ranks, otherwise he would be a spectacular disaster all the time. Tsvangiraiâ€™s rallies are being systematically blocked to prevent him from campaigning. Mugabe is laying the ground to grab victory by fair means or foul. This is one election which Tsvangirai can only win through sacrifice, although it is his to win or lose.
It is self-evident what Mugabe and his diehard military backers are planning. If Tsvangirai and his advisors â€” some of whom are clearly misleading him for narrow political and economic interests â€” canâ€™t see this, then we have another big problem, besides the Mugabe tragedy.
The trouble with the Tsvangirai campaign this time round â€” as opposed to the period before the March elections â€” is that it has been totally hijacked by a retinue of ghostly manipulators, including money-grubbers holed up in the posh suburbs of Johannesburg, while alienating his main pillars of support and eroding the local support base. This has weakened his rally to victory â€” hitherto clearly within reach in view of his historic advantage in this first poll.
Can anyone explain convincingly why there is no united front or a broad-based opposition movement behind Tsvangiraiâ€™s current campaign when it is obvious this would be his best insurance against violence and fraud?
However, this is not the real problem, although it might turn out be in the end. Mugabe might eventually storm back to power through a smash-and-grab approach unwittingly aided and abetted by the oppositionâ€™s acts of commission or omission. If Tsvangirai and his allies join forces in a serious way, Mugabe would simply be unable to win even through his warlike strategy. The military-style tactics cannot overwhelm peopleâ€™s irresistible power. Coordinated popular opinion and action is more powerful than the military.
Tsvangirai shouldnâ€™t fail to capitalise on the economic meltdown and all the opposition forces and tools at his disposal. So far he is not using these tools to his advantage. The other opposition groups and leaders are compounding the problem. There is everywhere in the opposition camp an evident absence of strategy.
The only redeeming advantage though is that there is a sea change of popular opinion against Mugabe because of his disastrous failures which he canâ€™t change. Tsvangirai on that account remains firmly on course, but needs to win because of himself, not despite himself. That requires a winning formula.
The situation is exacerbated by the poisoned electoral environment. Political violence and systematic attempts to manipulate the run-off outcome will ensure the poll becomes an elaborate smokescreen of smuggling Mugabe back into power through the backdoor.
We would all readily agree this is not an election at all by any stretch of the imagination if we knew what was going on. How can you have an election in which one of the candidates is not just using state resources, but a whole military machinery to campaign and blocking the opposition from holding rallies or appearing on television? Massive economic, social, and security resources have been marshalled and channelled to support Mugabeâ€™s bid which could be doomed to fail if he is left to campaign by himself.
Mugabe has done this before, especially in 1985, but the scale of this campaign is extraordinary and frightening.
If no blood was being spilt and the future of the country not at stake, this would be a compelling circus, not an election.
For Tsvangirai to win the run-off and take over, he will definitely need Churchillian courage and determination. Nothing short of this will suffice.