ZIMBABWEâ€™S political crisis scaled new heights this week with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing from todayâ€™s presidential run-off â€” a move analysts said was politically understandable, but legally wrong.
Tsvangirai announced on Sunday that he would no longer take part in the election because of escalating state-sponsored political violence that has claimed over 80 lives, displaced 200 000 people and left over 10 000 injured. He complained that he was not allowed to campaign freely with access to the people and to the media blocked.
The oppositionâ€™s decision saw the international community â€” including Africa â€” mobilising against President Robert Mugabeâ€™s government and called for the postponement of the poll.
Sadc, the African Union, the United Nations and other international bodies have called for Zimbabwe to end the violence and seek a negotiated settlement to the escalating crisis.
But the government this week insisted the run-off would go ahead and talks could follow.
Politicians and political analysts said the negotiations, however, would clearly be difficult, with Tsvangirai unlikely to accept a deal that does not grant him real power.
As for Mugabe, sharing power with a rival he has branded as a stooge of former colonial power Britain would be a bitter pill to swallow.
The analysts, however, said it was a fait accompli that the poll would go ahead and its outcome would benefit both Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
They argued that Mugabe was sure of victory after his “military-like” campaign and wanted to go into the post-election negotiations from a position of strength.
Mugabe, the analysts said, was aware that if elected he would not be able to govern the country effectively without the MDC, which now controls the House of Assembly after winning a combined 109 seats against 97 garnered by Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF.
The octogenarian leader, the analysts said, would need the MDC in his government to end Zimbabweâ€™s international isolation.
On Tsvangiraiâ€™s side, the analysts said the polls would reveal that Mugabe had turned Zimbabwe into a captive state and will lead the international community into increasing pressure on the 84-year-old former guerilla leader.
The analysts said if the electorate fails to turn out in their hundreds of thousands, the world would dismiss the poll it as hollow and a farce.
Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly, said Tsvangirai was right in withdrawing from the run-off, but was legally bound to participate.
He said Tsvangiraiâ€™s pull out was a political “embarrassment” for Mugabe because he needed legitimacy to rule Zimbabwe.
“Mugabe knows that even if the run-off takes place he will not get the legitimacy he desperately wanted,” Madhuku said.
He said the strict legal position was that the candidature for the run-off was not a voluntary exercise.
“Tsvangirai gave his consent when he contested the first election,” Madhuku said. “The run-off is an irreversible process.”
Political scientist and independent MP-elect for Tsholotsho North, Jonathan Moyo, said while Tsvangirai had denied Mugabe the legitimacy he craved, he described the MDC decision to pull out of the run-off as a “wrong move at the wrong time”.
Moyo, a former Mugabe spin-doctor, said Tsvangirai was gambling on his political career.
“It is the most unwise decision that they have ever made,” Moyo told an online radio station. “How can they withdraw five days before the election and yet people were being beaten and killed all along?”
He said it was unfortunate that Tsvangirai had made the decision when all along he had been saying “no amount of violence or intimidation would stop the opposition from romping to victory”.
“Itâ€™s a wrong move at the wrong time,” Moyo said. “There is a danger that by pulling out of the election, Tsvangirai has dug a political grave for himself. It will compound Mugabeâ€™s legitimacy crisis, but may wreck Tsvangiraiâ€™s career.”
Moyo said the move exposed Tsvangiraiâ€™s weaknesses and inconsistencies.
“It reflects badly on Tsvangirai. As recently as last week, he said he didnâ€™t need to campaign because voters had already made up their minds. He said no amount of violence would make Mugabe win. And last Saturday, he said he was contesting the run-off, which he claimed no one could cancel.”
Arthur Mutambara â€” the president of a faction of the MDC â€” said Mugabe wanted to win the run-off at all costs. It would determine the course of the post-elections negotiations with the opposition, he said.
He said Mugabe wanted to enter the negotiations from a point of strength.
“From this position of strength, Zanu PF and Mugabe will then want to engage the opposition as weak junior partners, even though the MDC collectively enjoys majority support of the electorate,” Mutambara argued. “They will not negotiate now, before the run-off, because they are in a much weaker position.”
He argued that the bargaining power obtained from winning the run-off was critical to Mugabe.
“With this victory, they might even dangle a Mugabe departure, where his successor from Zanu PF is elected national president by a joint sitting of the House of Assembly and Senate in which they will have a majority of 21,” Mutambara added. “Mugabeâ€™s exit would be designed to pacify those in the international community who view Mugabe as the symbol and personification of the Zimbabwean crisis. This is the Zanu PF political strategy.”
Michael Mhike, a political scientist, said Mugabe was likely to use the arrest of MDC secretary general Tendai Biti and MPs as a bargaining chip during the negotiations.
“We are going to see Mugabe dropping treason charges against Biti and other charges against MDC lawmakers who were arrested after the March 29 elections as a bargaining tool to get what he wants in the negotiations,” Mhike said.
He said Mugabe would also be amenable to the drafting of a new constitution.
International analysts said Tsvangiraiâ€™s move would pressure regional governments to act against Mugabe.
Sadc countries, whose appointed mediator in the crisis is South African President Thabo Mbeki, have been divided by the Zimbabwe crisis and criticised over a failure to take action.
“That is the most critical [situation] in the future of Zimbabwe: what Sadc is going to do,” political analyst Dirk Kotze of the Pretoria-based University of South Africa was quoted as saying by AFP.
“The United Nations does not have a lot of bargaining power, the United States and Britain even less. It is only Sadc that is left with any type of leverage.”
Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa said the recent criticism of Mugabe by regional leaders shows they may be poised to “take stronger action”.
“I think that he has been diminished, particularly after the spate of violence we have seen recently,” Maroleng said.
While some leaders have remained silent, growing violence has led to condemnation from leaders such as Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who has traditionally been a Mugabe ally.
Dos Santos at the weekend urged his counterpart to “cease all forms of intimidation and political violence”, while leaders from Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia have also raised their voices.
Countries such as Mozambique and Namibia have remained quiet, however. But Mugabe has since said Sadc is simply a forum for parties to operate in.
“However, those who seek to impose themselves on us and make idiotic noises would not bother us,” Mugabe said at a rally in Dema on Tuesday.
By Constantine Chimakure