The MDC’s stunning success in the hinterlands –for long the bedrock of Mugabe’s success – was the key to unlocking Mugabe’s stranglehold on power. Analysts say a collapsed economy and rising poverty connected rural populations with the change message of the opposition.
The triumph of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was slightly dampened by party officials’ embarrassing math mistake.
They declared their candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, the winner of the presidential race with 50.3% of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. But the party’s own figures showed he fell just short of the 50%-plus-one threshold for outright victory.
Tsvangirai, a former union official who has faced treason charges and
beatings in a nine-year battle to unseat Mugabe, seems almost certain to win a second-round election.
One of Tsvangirai’s main challenges is to win the support of military and
security commanders tied to Mugabe’s camp, many of whom are suspicious of the longtime opposition leader and fear that he will take away benefits they have reaped during nearly three decades of Mugabe’s rule.
Operation Makoni seduction
Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s MDC are now vying for the support of the third candidate, ruling party defector and former Finance Minister Simba Makoni.
Sources close to Makoni said he was unlikely to work with Mugabe, whatever the inducement.
Although Makoni won a modest 7% of the votes, according to the MDC’s count, he could be a key figure in ensuring a smooth transition.
Makoni and leaders in his group were expected to meet today to decide their position on the expected runoff.
Makoni’s military support
Despite his defection, Makoni is acceptable to the security forces, which
are dominated by the ruling party and could be spoilers in case of a
Tsvangirai runoff victory.
Military commanders are expected to woo the Makoni camp, seeing him as almost the last hope for staving off a Tsvangirai presidency.
Some commanders have said openly that they will never salute Tsvangirai, and Mugabe has vowed that his rival will never lead Zimbabwe.
The election commission has not released final vote tallies in the
presidential race, in part because some figures had to be verified after
Electoral reforms hampered Zanu-PF
But under an electoral reform pushed through under pressure from Zimbabwe’s southern African neighbors, each polling station posted its results, allowing the MDC to do its own tally.
The party says that of the 2,382,243 votes cast, Tsvangirai received
1,171,079, or about 49%, and Mugabe won 1,043,349, almost 44%.
Though the opposition leader fell short of an outright victory, he achieved an important strategic objective: throwing Mugabe, a master political manipulator, off balance.
However, ZANU-PF officials are already planning their campaign for the
runoff, which will play heavily on fears among those given land seized from white farmers that the opposition would take it away.
“You cannot forget the rerun will be based on that scenario, to say, ‘Are
you really ready to surrender the land?’ ” noted a senior party official.
“The bottom line is that as soon as the MDC comes in, there will be a
reversal of the land program. These are the things that people are looking at now.”
Confessions of a former Zanu-PF member
Retired Maj. Kudzai Mbudzi, a former ruling party member now loyal to
third-place candidate Makoni, predicted that the runoff would reprise the
violence and intimidation that occurred during elections in 2000 and 2002.
“As ZANU-PF, we used violence to win elections — that and land,” Mbudzi said. “I was part of the formation. We instilled fear.
“If you burn one opposition supporter’s house, all of the rest will
change,” he said. “If you beat up several people, all of the rest will change. If two or three of them disappear, never to be traced, the rest will change.”
Mbudzi said he was not directly involved in violence.
He acknowledged that there were differences of opinion between Makoni’s forces and the MDC, but said their problems with ZANU-PF were impossible to reconcile.
Mugabe dishes out one VP postion to several
“You can never trust Mugabe,” Mbudzi said. “Mugabe has now offered everybody within ZANU-PF the vice president position in return for support. He’s run out of promises.”
Many are predicting that should Mugabe fall, the ruling party will shatter.
It has been deeply divided over the succession since early last year. Mugabe rebuffed attempts to usher in another presidential candidate, insisting that he was the only one who could win elections.
Despite the dissent, he ran unopposed for its nomination at a party congress in December.