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mugabe's last stand

By unknown | Apr 04, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Wednesday's lead story on the front page of the government's mouthpiece, The Herald, was a timely reminder of Zanu-PF's quandary as the results of the March 29 elections were announced at the slow pace of water being squeezed out of a rock - almost.

Wednesday's lead story on the front page of the government's mouthpiece, The Herald, was a timely reminder of Zanu-PF's quandary as the results of the March 29 elections were announced at the slow pace of water being squeezed out of a rock - almost.

"Zanu-PF, MDC heading for a tie", screamed the headline, though some cynics decided it wasn't a scream but almost a cry for help.

What it meant, in essence, was that President Robert Mugabe, who has run the country for 28 years, would have to subject himself to the humiliation of a contest for this plum job for the second time against someone he had failed to beat in the first round.

To heap more humiliation on the pile of the assault on his dignity, would be the fact that this rival would be Morgan Tsvangirai, the former unionist he had once jailed and had twice defeated in the presidential stakes after he had turned himself into a formidable politician in 2000.

The Herald headline was a rather disingenuous plea for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) not to continue its announcements of a victory in the presidential poll, as indicated by the House of Assembly votes that showed it was ahead of Zanu-PF.

For Zanu-PF and Mugabe a run-off raised the prospect of an eventual victory. According to the law, it would have to take place three weeks after the first round: a lot of water could pass under the bridge in that time.

For the MDC the water might consist mostly of what the party and neutral students of the election history of Zimbabwe know only too well: the jiggery-pokery of which Zanu-PF functionaries are past masters.

The MDC has made no secret of its utter mistrust of the ruling party. In fact, even as its spokesman announced, controversially, that their presidential candidate had won the election, he said they were doing so in the full knowledge that the playing field had not been level and the entire exercise had not met all the requirements of a democratic, free and fair election.

What most pundits read into this gesture was the MDC's attempt to play, not by its own rules, which are ostensibly rooted in openness, but by those of Zanu-PF, which are always assumed to be shrouded in secrecy and sleight-of-hand.

In the past the MDC seemed to believe it had been "played" by Zanu-PF, led by the nose, bamboozled and mesmerised into walking into electoral traps laid expertly by professionals.

This time, perhaps, they would beat the ruling party at its own game. There was a panic reaction, it is true, among some Zanu-PF zealots. It was almost as if they were accusing the opposition of a reversal of roles: they were always the victims, not the perpetrators.

In the end the run-off would bring Mugabe toe-to-toe with Tsvangirai. At the time of writing, it was not certain if the other MDC faction, led by Arthur Mutambara, would throw its presidential weight behind Tsvangirai.

There was not even a hint as to whether Simba Makoni would urge his supporters to back Tsvangirai in the run-off. His open contempt for the former unionist suggested he might not do so without some pressure.

But the main question was what Mugabe would do. By Wednesday night the MDC had more seats in parliament than Zanu-PF, if you added Mutambara's people. There was alarm when some people pointed out that Mutambara's faction might throw in its lot with Zanu-PF - but in exchange for what?

The faction's heavyweights lost in parliamentary elections. Such former luminaries of the united MDC, Gibson Sibanda, Welshman Ncube and Paul Temba-Nyathi lost to candidates of the other faction.

The MDC expected to do well all round, as Zanu-PF had harvested such a heavy political load of rotten crops in seven years of a hemorrhaging economy it had lost the loyalty of many rural voters who decided to vote with their hungry stomachs.

Yet Zanu-PF still did relatively well. This was nothing compared with its previous performance in other elections. Still, even the most pessimistic devotees of the party must have been surprised at how well the party performed.

But for Mugabe this must have been a humiliating experience. It is now being suggested that if he decides to go into the run-off with Tsvangirai, it can only be with the assurance, or even the guarantee of his "handlers" that he would win - come what might.

This is where the MDC should tread carefully. What "guarantee" would it have that its majority in the House of Assembly votes would be translated into a victory in the presidential stakes?

Mugabe may go into the run-off reluctantly. First, there is the humiliation. Then there is the likelihood of things going so horribly bad for him that he could lose.

The terrible scenario has been painted for us by Mugabe's detractors that if he had his way, he would not go into the run-off. Apart from it being his most humiliating political act, it might be too heavy on his health too - he may look robust, but he is 84.

Apparently, according to the scenario, the heads of the services - the same people who issued that horrible warning to the electorate about voting only for Mugabe - are urging him to go into the run-off.

But cynics don't believe they are driven by patriotism to do this. It might be just pure self-preservation - again.

For Mugabe, it could be the final straw: who can you trust when the chips are down?

l Bill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.


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