FOLLOWING the constitutional referendum last weekend in which Zimbabweans endorsed the draft constitution with a landslide, the spotlight is now shifting to watershed general elections due mid-year where the presidential race featuring perennial rivals, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would be the high-point.
The results of the referendum have been embraced by some to claim that Mugabe and Zanu PF would win the next polls since there was supposedly a high voter turnout in their traditional political strongholds.
Mugabe and his party have also of late been buoyed by favourable election surveys which point out they have significantly recovered from their pathetic performance in 2008.
In the 2008 parliamentary polls, the Tsvangirai-led MDC-T won 99 seats in the Lower House, followed by Zanu PF with 97 seats and the MDC, then led by deputy premier Arthur Mutambara, with 10. The results denied Zanu PF a legislative majority for the first time in the country’s 28-year history.
In the senate, Zanu PF took half of the 60 elected seats, but it also controlled the chamber’s 33 unelected seats. The MDC-T and MDC, won 24 and six senate seats, respectively.
When the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) finally released the presidential election results after a five-week delay, it announced that Tsvangirai had defeated Mugabe by 47,9% to 43,2%, requiring a run-off between the two.
The MDC-T accused Zec of fraud and claimed Tsvangirai had won the election outright with 50,3% of the vote. As evidence, the party cited an extensive parallel vote count conducted by a network of civic groups.
Following Mugabe’s shock defeat in the first round of polling, Zanu PF militias and state security forces began a brutal campaign of violence calculated to exert vengeance and intimidation against MDC members and their suspected supporters in civil society groups, including the media.
Tsvangirai ultimately withdrew from the blood-soaked June presidential election run-off, allowing the unopposed Mugabe to claim 85% of the vote amid low turnout and many spoiled ballots.
Political violence continued after the elections.
According to international and domestic human rights organisations, at least 200 MDC activists and supporters were killed over the course of 2008, about 5 000 were beaten, tortured or maimed, while more than 10 000 were displaced.
As a result, Mugabe’s purported victory was widely rejected, even by regional and African leaders. In September 2008, Zanu PF and the MDC parties then reached a power-sharing agreement brokered by Sadc — the Global Political Agreement (GPA) — that allowed Mugabe to remain president, created the post of prime minister for Tsvangirai, and distributed ministries to Zanu PF (14, including defence, state security, and justice), Tsvangirai’s MDC-T (13, including finance, health, and constitutional and parliamentary affairs), and Mutambara’s party three.
A constitutional amendment creating the post of prime minister was enacted in February 2009, and the new government was sworn in that month.
However, in practice, Mugabe retained control of the powerful executive, and after that he unilaterally re-appointed the governor for the central bank, the attorney-general, and the police commissioner-general, as well as a number of senior judges and diplomats.
Mugabe also refused to swear in MDC-T deputy minister Roy Bennett and all of its provincial governors, appointing Zanu PF loyalists instead.
So inevitably after the referendum, there is already debate over who stands to benefit more from the process and its outcome between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. The state media claim “Zanu PF strongholds in rural areas recorded high turnouts to drive the ‘Yes’ vote with MDC-T-dominated urban areas recording low endorsement in some areas which suggests Zanu PF is poised for a landslide victory”.
Analysts have contending views on who is currently more solid and stronger between Mugabe and Tsvangirai ahead of elections.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza says Tsvangirai will defeat Mugabe in any credible poll. He says Tsvangirai has age on his side and his long-running anti-Mugabe campaign still has momentum.
Mandaza said that besides his record of failure, Mugabe’s chances have been dented by intensifying factionalism and infighting within Zanu PF, mainly caused by his protracted succession battles.
“Those in his party are not happy with his candidature so another scenario of bhora musango (a protest strategy in which Zanu PF candidates sabotaged Mugabe by campaigning for themselves while urging their supporters to back any other presidential candidate) is likely to contribute to his demise,” said Mandaza.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya says Tsvangirai has a chance to win the polls if he can unite anti-Mugabe forces to eliminate division of the vote which prevented him from an undisputed victory in 2008.
“Judging by results from previous elections, Tsvangirai has a chance to win, but that will also depend on whether he can rally a strong pro-democracy coalition that comprises organisations like the National Constitutional Assembly, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and the International Socialist Organisation,” said Ruhanya.
He said Mugabe’s old age and ill-health were his major handicaps as each passing day made the ageing leader less appealing and vulnerable.
Mugabe turned 89 last month, making him Africa’s oldest leader.
Other observers say Tsvangirai will only secure outright victory if the two MDC formations unite against Mugabe. But Tsvangirai and his rival Welshman Ncube, leader of the MDC, have ruled out any prospects of an alliance.
The animosity between Tsvangirai and Ncube runs deep and led to the party’s split in 2005. An attempt to forge an alliance failed in 2008, partly because the parties could not agree on the allocation of government positions if they won.
In his autobiography At the Deep End, Tsvangirai claimed Ncube’s MDC did not have any influence, saying “they were simply riding on my popularity, in the forlorn hope that part of it would rub off on to them”.
Analysts say given the current delicate balance between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, Ncube, whose party has picked up some momentum, could eventually be the kingmaker.
They say Mugabe’s prospects hinge on land reform and indigenisation programmes — its main campaign strategy — claimed to have benefitted rural communities which form a huge part of the electorate.
Brian Raftopoulos, director of research and advocacy in the Solidarity Peace Trust, says Zanu PF has regained popularity through its empowerment programmes, and that could help Mugabe.
“By implementing this controversial programme, Zanu PF has managed to claw back some space and increase its support base,” said Raftopoulos.
“The four years in the inclusive government has also given the former ruling party some breathing space to re-organise its structures after the 2008 election loss while the MDC parties are likely to fail to unite to enhance their chances of unseating Mugabe in the next elections.”
While Mugabe is offering land reform and indigenisation, Tsvangirai has come up with a new economic blueprint called Juice (Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and Ecology) which however has failed to create election hype.
Since 2000, Tsvangirai has largely relied on the anti-Mugabe sentiment to garner votes while his rival has used empowerment as well as political terror to hang onto power. Surveys say Zimbabweans remain anxiously uncertain about the political future of their country, not sure who will win, although they give Mugabe and his party a doubtful edge.