Sunday, March 30, 2008

Election results in Zimbabwe - Democratic miracle or prelude to further catastrophe ... or both?

Four days ago the journalist Dayo Olopade offered a prospective assessment of the upcoming Zimbabwean elections so penetratingly on-target that I have already quoted it a few times, and will do so again:
There is no room for middling outcomes—Saturday’s elections in Zimbabwe will either be historic or painfully routine.
Well, now we know at least that the results were not business as usual. They were stunningly unexpected, and may indeed prove to be historic. Against all the odds, and in the face of massive ongoing repression, violence, intimidation, and other forms of election-rigging, Zimbabwe's voters appear to have handed Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party a decisive electoral defeat. This represents a truly impressive achievement both for Zimbabwe's democratic opposition and for Zimbabwe's people as a whole.

On the other hand, this is not the end of the story. In 1990, when the Burmese military dictatorship was forced by popular and international pressures to hold elections, those elections were won decisively by opponents of the dictatorship led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The military responded by annulling the election results, putting Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest (where she has mostly remained since then), and intensifying their repression. As Norman Geras pointed out yesterday in his very useful post on the Zimbabwean elections, Mugabe and his henchmen have repeatedly warned that they would never willingly give up power to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. So this election may prove to be the first step toward ending Mugabe's murderous and catastrophic despotism ... or the ruling elite may simply cast off its last pretensions to constitutional government and impose a more straightforward military dictatorship.

Norm concluded his discussion yesterday on an appropriate note of anxious uncertainty:
I hesitate to predict what is going to happen. Could this election herald the beginning of the end of Zimbabwe’s agony? I would like to be able to hope so. But I fear that it won’t — indeed that the country may be on the brink of worse yet, post-election violence either if Mugabe loses or if there is a widespread sense that he has won fraudulently.
Now we'll see what happens next. But, for the moment, I have to repeat that even having gotten this far constitutes an impressive, almost awe-inspiring achievement for Zimbabwe's democratic opposition ... and we have to hope that it constitutes a first step toward ending the agony of Zimbabwe's people.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub
The Guardian
Sunday March 30 2008
Mugabe clings on in face of opposition victory
Chris McGreal in Harare

Robert Mugabe was desperately attempting to cling to power tonight despite his clear defeat in Zimbabwe's presidential election by blocking the electoral commission from releasing official results and threatening to treat an opposition claim of victory as a coup.

The Movement for Democratic Change said that what it regards as the overwhelming win by its candidate for president, Morgan Tsvangirai, is "under threat" despite growing support from foreign monitors for its claim of victory.

The party also said it had "security concerns" after a police raid on its election offices today, and Tsvangirai made no public appearances apparently out of concern for his safety.

Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, warned Tsvangirai not to declare himself president because that "is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled".

But sources close to the MDC said that the party leadership has put out feelers to the military and elements of the ruling Zanu-PF to try and arrange a peaceful transfer of power.

Independent monitoring groups said that returns posted at about two-thirds of polling stations gave Tsvangirai 55% of the vote to Mugabe's 36%. The monitors said there is no way now for the president, who even lost in his home territory of Mashonaland as well as other former strongholds, to legitimately win the election.

A third presidential candidate, Simba Makoni, a former finance minister who broke with Mugabe, took about 9%.

Zanu-PF also suffered losses in the parliamentary election with at least nine members of its politburo losing their seats including the vice president, Joice Mujuru, and the defence, information and education ministers.

The MDC's secretary general, Tendai Biti, said the party was increasingly alarmed at the refusal of the state-run Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to issue any results.

"We are very much concerned by the lack of results from the ZEC. It appears the regime is at a loss how to respond and is therefore taking its time. We are really concerned by this assault on democracy. The primary point of an election is a result. We think there is a constitutional threat to those results," he said.

The commission has in the past begun issuing results as soon as they are posted at polling stations, and collated them by constituency for release within hours of the vote.

ZEC's chairman, George Chiweshe, declined to explain why he was still not issuing results more than 24 hours after the polls closed. "This is a complicated election and we will release the results when we have them," he said.

Opposition supporters in some towns, including Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo, publicly celebrated but generally Zimbabweans were cautious, not quite believing that Mugabe will leave office after 28 years in power.

With more than 50% of the vote, Tsvangirai would avoid a run-off election although his proportion might yet fall below the threshold as many of the remaining results are from rural areas where Mugabe traditionally has support.

Biti warned that there was still scope for fraud. He said his party is still encountering irregularities including the sudden appearance of additional ballot boxes at polling stations where the count has been completed. He also said that MDC election agents had been prevented from attending the count at several polling stations where the results then showed Zanu-PF doing significantly better than in surrounding areas.

But there was a growing acceptance among foreign monitors and diplomats that Tsvangirai had secured a clear victory over Mugabe.

South African monitors said they believed the opposition had won but would hold off on a public statement until the official results were announced. The Pan-African parliament observer mission warned against further delays in issuing the results.

A British foreign office minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, said it was "quite likely" that Mugabe had lost despite "massive pre-election day cheating".

Biti declined to say how the MDC will confront Mugabe if he refuses to give up power. But he repeated hints that while the MDC would stay within the law it would encourage its supporters to challenge the government on the streets.

"I'm not going to prescribe a formula for Zimbabweans. I'm going to speak for the party I lead. We're going to do everything legally and constitutionally," said Biti.