Makoni brokering deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai ?

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Officials from Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change are having back-channel contacts with senior security officers in Robert Mugabe’ s regime as the president faces increasing pressure from his party to concede defeat in the wake of the apparent MDC victory in last weekend’s elections.

By Alec Russell, Southern Africa Correspondent

Diplomats and MDC officials denied speculation sweeping Harare that a deal was all but complete, paving the way for Mr Mugabe to step down in a smooth transfer of power.

The US on Tuesday in effect recognised the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as the victor of the election, after previously having maintained a diplomatic silence on the results.

“It’s clear the people of Zimbabwe have voted for change,” said Gordon
Johndroe, a White House spokesman. “It’s time for the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to confirm the results we have all seen from the local polling stations and respected NGOs.”

Mr Tsvangirai played down a report that South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki had brokered a deal between the opposition and security chiefs.

“Let’s not be influenced by speculation. There is no discussion,” he said on Tuesday night when asked about reports of a possible deal.

But he did not rule out that the first steps were under way towards
negotiating a settlement, saying that speculation should wait until after
the official results were published.

In his first public comments since the election, Mr Tsvangirai was brimming with confidence. He told diplomats and journalists in Harare that he had won a convincing victory in the presidential race and that he had crossed the threshold of more than 50 per cent of the votes to avoid a run-off.

He also expressed confidence in the results being issued so far from the
state-appointed election commission, the ZEC, and said the MDC would on Wednesday release its results, which officials say show beyond doubt they have won the parliamentary and presidential races.

Before declaring he was the next president he would wait until the official results were released, he said, but added that Zimbabwe was at “the crossroads of a defining moment as we sculpt a new destiny”.

“For years we have stood together in queues in hospitals, prison cells… Today we face a new challenge of governance, of rehabilitating our
beloved country.”

The discussions are still at a preliminary stage and are aimed at sounding out the mood of generals who may be more dovish than the hardline commanders of the police and armed forces, according to people familiar with the talks.

Simba Makoni, a former finance minister who is Mr Mugabe’s other challenger, is said to have played a leading role in the discussions, relying on his old contacts in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

A key interlocutor is believed to be Solomon Mujuru, the former army
commander and a Zanu-PF powerbroker who is believed to have supported Mr Makoni’s presidential bid from behind the scenes.

The contacts were made as Mr Mugabe was coming under mounting pressure from Zanu-PF to accept he was beaten in the elections, as party insiders pinned their last hopes on a possible presidential run-off in three weeks’ time.

Stunned by results indicating a comfortable victory for the MDC in the
parliamentary and presidential polls, some in Zanu-PF have seized on an
independent projection that Mr Tsvangirai may fall just short of the 50 per cent plus one vote threshold to avoid a run-off.

The MDC were confident on Tuesday this would be avoided and that final
results would give Mr Tsvangirai more than 50 per cent. Senior MDC officials had earlier in the day conceded that if the ZEC substantially fiddled with the remaining results yet to be published, they might face a run-off.

“The worst-case scenario is a run-off and it’s still a possibility,” said
Ian Makone, the MDC’s chief election strategist. “But I am happy to relish
the idea.”

Three days after the polls closed, results were still only trickling out of
the ZEC, reinforcing the belief among diplomats and analysts that Zanu-PF was stalling for time as Mr Mugabe considered his options.

The latest official results gave the MDC 77 and Zanu-PF 79 out of the 210
seats in the lower house.

There were no results given for the presidential race, fuelling speculation
among MDC activists that the 84-year-old autocrat was planning to concede defeat in the parliamentary race, but still clinging to the hope that he could avoid losing power to Mr Tsvangirai.

Professor Jonathan Moyo, a former close presidential aide, who ran as an independent MP, said Zanu-PF politicians were now relying on a run-off but that they would never win it. “A run-off will annihilate them. There is no way he [Mugabe] can win it. Right now they are trying to see how they can avoid a run-off but it is inevitable.”

A projection by the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network gave Mr Tsvangirai 49.4 per cent of the vote, with Mr Mugabe on 41.8 per cent and Mr Makoni at 8 per cent.

The Financial Times

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