(Last Updated on August 4, 2013 by Editor)
The United States and Britain have expressed their concerns after Robert Mugabe was declared the winner of Zimbabwe‘s presidential election on Saturday with 2,110,434 votes, giving him 61% of the total and Morgan Tsvangirai 34%. The margin was enough to avoid a repeat of the runoff of 2008.
As Zanu-PF supporters celebrated the national election commission announcement, Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders held a press conference that was attended by the British and other western ambassadors. “The fraudulent and stolen election has plunged Zimbabwe into a constitutional, political and economic crisis,” he said. “Instead of celebration, there is national mourning.”
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, commended Zimbabweans for rejecting violence but added: “Make no mistake: in light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the United States does not believe that the results announced today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.”
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, also expressed “grave concerns” about the conduct of the vote.
The MDC will boycott government institutions and “pursue peaceful, legal, political, constitutional and diplomatic remedies”, including in court, Tsvangirai said. The MDC called on African and regional bodies to meet urgently to restore legitimacy in Zimbabwe and demanded a fresh election as soon as possible.
Asked about the lack of popular revolt, Tsvangirai replied: “Why should there be? Our people are disciplined. You don’t solve problems by creating violence. In fact, we are at this stage because of the discipline of our people. If it was any other country, they would burn down the building. They have not chosen to do that because they know at the end of the day we don’t want any violent resolution of this crisis.”
He denied that the result raised questions over his leadership. “We did not lose this election. We won. It is the imagination of Zanu-PF that they’ve won it, yet they know the truth. This is not a personal issue, this is a national issue. If the MDC lost this election, then it is not Tsvangirai who has lost.
“So far I have the full backing of the national council, I have the full backing of the people of Zimbabwe. Until such time that they can express it, then we can talk about it.”
In the short term, there is the question of an appropriate response to an election likely to be ratified by African observers. The MDC and independent watchdogs alike claim it was rigged with brilliant subtlety and sophistication.
“They have transformed this election from the margin of violence to the margin of error – from the baton stick and machete to the desktop,” said MDC secretary general Tendai Biti.
Zanu-PF has dared the MDC to challenge the result in court, but it would face judges appointed by Mugabe. An alternative is mass protest. The MDC’s final “crossover rally” drew an estimated 100,000 people. Few in the optimistic crowd guessed that the “crossover” would be into potential oblivion. Yet there is scant sign of those thousands taking to the streets in an Egyptian-style uprising against Mugabe’s 33-year rule.
“It’s not going to happen in an environment like that, because it’s certain death,” said Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer general, who claims to have been driven into exile in neighbouring South Africa. “Anybody who goes out to protest now will get shot. It would be suicide, and who’s going to commit suicide?”
Bennett said the MDC leadership faced similar constraints, but called for a campaign of passive resistance. “Unless the MDC acts, and acts decisively, now,” he warned, “Zanu-PF will rule for ever and the MDC will fade into oblivion. The people need strong leadership. If they don’t get it, new leaders will emerge.”
Asked if Tsvangirai can provide this, Bennett, who wanted the MDC to boycott the elections, hesitated before replying: “The next couple of weeks will prove whether he has the heart.”
Tsvangirai has survived beatings, arrests and assassination attempts, including nearly being thrown from a 10th-floor window. He has tried and failed to dislodge Mugabe three times, although supporters argue that, on a level playing field, he would have won every time.
In 2008, the presidency seemed in his grasp when he beat Mugabe in the first round, only to withdraw from a runoff, citing violence against supporters that left more than 200 people dead.
Tsvangirai became prime minister in a coalition government and believed he could win outright this time. Instead, the party has lost many parliamentary strongholds. Results so far paint the electoral map Zanu-PF green, with only a few pockets of MDC red.Whatever the degree of any rigging, some believe Tsvangirai was a weak leader who let the MDC become tarnished by corruption and made careless choices in his search for a wife.
Tawanda Majoni, a political columnist, said: “It is clear that the MDC has made several fatal mistakes during the tenure of the government of national unity, from Tsvangirai’s love gaffes to the party’s cosy approach to politics during the period in question … The MDC should have used its nearness to power to gain some clout, but it didn’t.”
But Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, appeared to rediscover his mojo in recent weeks when it came to doing what he does best – mobilising crowds. Jameson Timba, minister of state in Tsvangirai’s office, said: “In my view, Morgan Tsvangirai still has the drive to complete the struggle for democratic change.”
Petina Gappah, a writer and political commentator, admitted being among the sceptics who had written the MDC off at the start of the year. But she added: “A lot of people are pointing fingers at Morgan, but nobody could have prevented this.
“My respect for Morgan has risen and, if he steps down, he will be a hero to many and have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. He and his party gave us opposition politics. Until the late 1990s, we had a one-party state here, and any future opposition party will owe a lot to the MDC.”
Born from the labour movement in 1999, the MDC has never been allowed to forget that white people were conspicuous at its beginnings. Zanu-PF still paints it as a puppet of western imperialism, although the crowd at last Monday’s rally was 99.9% black.
MDC members have been murdered, tortured and jailed during a long struggle and the prize now seems further away than ever. The party is at a crossroads, mindful that for decades opposition movements have made little headway against liberation governments in neighbouring Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, although Zambia has seen democratic transfers of power.
Bennett even predicted that an MDC “armed wing” could emerge to take on Mugabe’s “military junta”. But as police maintained watch on people shopping and strolling in parks, Zimbabwe seemed to be illustrating the idea that nothing, like something, happens anywhere.