HARARE – The chances of Morgan Tsvangirai winning Zimbabwe’s presidential election on July 31 in the first round of polling have never been better, many analysts believe, even if surveys (that are now a-year-old) seem to tell a different story.
A majority of voters, mostly peasants and the unemployed working class, are desperate for relief from the grim economic situation created by previous Zanu PF administrations.
The brief glimpse of economic recovery following the arrival of an inclusive government in early 2009 has faded; in reality there is no investment and infrastructure repair has mostly come to a standstill.
Reforms to election laws, including the administration of elections, make rigging or miscounts more difficult, despite chaos within the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) which last week showed — with its poor handling of just the special voting — that it is not yet ready to run full elections.
But just as it seems more likely for Tsvangirai to win more than 50 percent in the first round, the prospect of his possible victory sends shivers down the spines of most Zimbabweans as they recall what happened in the last poll.
Those elections were, as usual, peaceful on the day, March 28, 2008. The official count showed Tsvangirai easily beat Mugabe in the first round but was nearly 3 percent short of what he needed to win, 50 percent plus one vote. But insiders believe Tsvangirai had got more than 50 percent-plus-one and that Zanu PF knew this within 12 hours after polls closed, via the electoral commission.
Mugabe was prepared to stand down. He felt thoroughly beaten, and was tired. But there was panic elsewhere in Zanu PF and some of the party elite began moving assets.
The military and others in the security sector, in particular the Joint Operation Command, which is an informal committee bound by no laws, then hatched a plot for Mugabe to survive.
They would manipulate the vote to deny Tsvangirai victory in the first round and then drive him out of the run-off — by violence. Or so some insiders suspected.
That’s why it took an otherwise-inexplicable five weeks for the Zec to announce the presidential election result, three weeks after the announcement of the legislative elections, showing a narrow MDC victory.
MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti claimed Tsvangirai had in fact won more than 50 percent in the first round. He was arrested; his claim could not be proved. What is not in doubt is that major violence erupted soon after the elections.
Hundreds of people were killed, mostly beaten to death, tens of thousands had to flee their homes. As the pressure built, Tsvangirai left for Botswana.
Finally, a week before the scheduled run-off, there was massive violence which led to Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the run-off.
Tsvangirai arrived there, and announced he was withdrawing from the run-off.
Mugabe stood as the sole candidate and, of course, won. But there was no food on shelves, the currency was more useful to start a fire than take to a shop, there were fuel shortages, power cuts, closed schools and hospitals, and no money to pay civil servants.
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) intervened, asking then President Thabo Mbeki to mediate negotiations among the three main parties for a power-sharing transitional government.
More than four years later, Zimbabwe has a new Constitution.
Its election laws are much better, it has a couple of independents on the electoral commission and its chairperson, Judge Rita Makarau, is more wary of her reputation than her predecessor. It’s not all good, but it is better.
There is also President Jacob Zuma’s mediation team, who know all of each political party’s strengths and weaknesses, and who are concerned enough to have called an Sadc security troika summit today, mainly to discuss “the status of preparations” — or lack thereof — for the elections. It is clear that a Tsvangirai victory would be a move into the perilous unknown.
Perhaps Zanu PF, assured by Tsvangirai that he will not prosecute Mugabe or other party leaders, would accept the results; perhaps Sadc and Zuma’s interests and behind-the-scenes influence would persuade the generals — who are still on the record that they will not serve Tsvangirai — that there can be no going back.