Zimbabwe : Tsvangirai’s dilemma

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Zimbabwe’s opposition faced a difficult decision on Friday night over whether to contest a presidential run-off after the long-delayed official election results were finally released. They confirmed that President Robert Mugabe had been defeated but apparently not by a sufficient margin to avoid a second round.

By Alec Russell in Johannesburg and Tony Hawkins in Harare

More than a month after the polls closed, the state-appointed Zimbabwe electoral commission said Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, had won 47.9 per cent of the vote, with Mr Mugabe trailing on 43.2 per cent.

Citing the rule that the winner needed a clear majority to avoid a run-off, Lovemore Sekeramayi, the commission’s chief elections officer, said a second round would be necessary. “Since no candidate has received the majority of the total votes cast … a second election shall be held on a date to be announced by the commission,” he said. “By law, a second round should be held within 21 days of the result.”

The MDC repeated its formal position on Friday night that it would not contest a run-off, arguing it was impossible to take part amid the campaign of government intimidation.

Tendai Biti, the MDC’s secretary-general, said the party would call for an urgent summit of leaders of the Southern African Development Community, the regional grouping, after what he said was a stolen election. He said the electoral commission inflated Zanu-PF’s figures by about 37,000 votes and deflated the MDC’s figures by 50,000, a difference he said robbed Mr Tsvangirai of outright victory.

But he added that the party’s leadership would meet this weekend to consider the way ahead and that if the SADC were to take firm steps to monitor a second round and to clamp down on government intimidation they might yet take part in a run-off.

The MDC knows that, on paper, given the implosion of the economy under Mr Mugabe, Mr Tsvangirai should easily win a run-off.

He would expect to gain the support of many, if not most, of the voters who backed the third presidential candidate, Simba Makoni, a former finance minister, in the first round. According to the electoral commission, Mr Makoni won 8.3 per cent.

But the likelihood is it would be a difficult and dangerous campaign. Over the past month militias aligned to Zanu-PF and backed by the security forces have waged a campaign of intimidation against opposition supporters, particularly in rural areas where Mr Tsvangirai made inroads into Mr Mugabe’s heartland. But if Mr Tsvangirai does not run, Mr Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980, will be able to claim victory.

On Friday night Zanu-PF announced it would go to the courts to challenge 52 of the 99 parliamentary seats won by the MDC. In a move intended to pile pressure on the opposition, Mr Mugabe’s party is seeking to recover the parliamentary majority it lost, using the courts.

Mr Mugabe’s government was emboldened by the failure of China, Russia, South Africa and other governments in the United Nations Security Council this week to support the sending of a UN envoy to Zimbabwe, although the economy remains his Achilles heel.

The MDC has said a second round would need to be monitored by many independent election observers.

The Financial Times

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