Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

The scenario of a unity government headed by Simba Makoni

Posted by CM on April 3, 2008

Much of the focus on the Zimbabwe election results in the last several hours has understandably been on the fact that the MDC has won more seats than ZANU-PF for the first time. But at 97 to 95, with a handful of results that will not change the closeness of the results much outstanding, it is amazing that ZANU-PF won that many seats.

Rigging and /or intimidation may account for some of this, but not for all or necessarily even most of the ruling party’s seats. It has sort of been assumed that popular disgust and despair at the state of the country would result in an electoral wipeout for ZANU-PF.

Yet the result may suggest that the strong desire to see Mugabe go did not necessarily automatically extend to the rest of his party. This would tend to be supported by the fact that his closest henchmen, some of his most senior ministers, lost their seats while many non-cabinet ZANU-PF MPs with good relations with their constituents were re-elected. Voters may have carefully, deliberately turned out individual members of Mugabe’s inner circle without necessarily rejecting ZANU-PF in a blanket way.

Other plausible factors could have been the weaker campaign abilities as well as the poor quality and appeal of many MDC candidates. While this is the first time the MDC has been the majority party, voters have had two previous elections to now know that many of its winning candidates were lacklustre and un-inspiring as MPs, just like many of ZANU-PF’s.

Even if Tsvangirai is sworn in as president, his party’s parliamentary majority is so razor thin that he will not be able to ram through constitutional changes without ZANU-PF support. Mugabe may be on his way out, but based on its number of parliamentary seats, ZANU-PF is far from finished.

The exit of Mugabe as president, but with the continuing strong minority representation of ZANU-PF in parliament, could be a good outcome for the country. A polarizing figure would be gone, but the new ruling party would not have such an overwhelming parliamentary majority to become dangerous in the mould of ZANU-PF. And there would in theory be the important balance of knowing that if the MDC failed to deliver results as a government, a ZANU-PF that rejuvenated itself under a new leader could pose a threat to them at the next election. This would be the the beginning of a culture of real democracy, checks and balances and electoral power in the hands of the voters, rather than in the hands of party machines.

Everyone is having a lot of fun playing Zimbabwe expert, with all sorts of guesses as to what is really going on behind the scenes as the announcement of the official presidential results are held up for the fifth day. Other “Zimbabwe experts” like Heidi Holland, who is making a lot of capital out of her recent interview with Mugabe, even imagine they know what is going on in his head!

But an interesting, plausible and possibly desirable scenario that has been speculated about is that of a government of national unity with Simba Makoni as its head, not Morgan Tsvangirai. What’s next for Mugabe? by Fiona Forde on South Africa’s IOL website, is a brilliant article. It may be no more than the mind games, speculation and wishing that the rest of the media is doing, but it genuinely adds some new insight when compared to the vast acres of shallow nonsense pouring forth from British and American sources.

On the face of it this seems like an outandish idea and a negation of the will of the voters who voted for Tsvangirai. But  Godfrey Chanetsa, described as “Makoni’s right-hand man and a former spokesperson for Mugabe,” makes a compelling if somewhat pompously expressed argument for this possibility.

“This country doesn’t need regime change now. It needs new leadership. And many people believe Simba is the man who can bring this country to the level that it should be,” the report quotes Chanetsa as saying.

Chanetsa continues, “This is not about numbers. The eight percent (Makoni’s share of the presidential vote) is an illusion. Many people were afraid to vote for Simba, afraid of letting Zanu-PF in the back door and losing their chance of getting rid of Robert. But if they got rid of Robert, do you still think they would see Morgan as the right man for the job?”

Chanetsa implies the answer would be “no.” It must be kept in mind that he would naturally be expected to angle for an important role for his boss, and a cushy government job for himself. But still, the answer for me is clearly “no.” I would thank Tsvangirai for playing a historically important national role by turning out Mugabe, but would be relieved at the prospect that he would not be the president. I would not at all mind if he was given some important sounding ceremonial role along with a big house and the most fashionable car and other perks to soothe his ego. A Makoni presidency under the circumstances in which he led a unity government that included both the MDC and ZANU-PF would be a splendid compromise for me, even though I was lukewarm about Makoni’s candidacy as an independent.

The article reasonably points out that “the likelihood of Tsvangirai handing over the reigns to Makoni, who won only a fraction of the vote, is slim. ”

Chanetsa counters: “If (Tsvangirai) goes it alone he would be dealing with a very    unstable structure for the next 10 years because the dismantling of the entrenched  Zanu-PF structure will take a long time. But we can avoid conflict if we go the route of a government of national unity.”

Makoni could still play an important role because ” many in the ruling party saw in Makoni a man who could help them bridge the divide between the Mugabe era and what followed next,” according to Chanetsa.

As Makoni adviser Kudzai Mbudzi points out, “The military…don’t trust Tsvangirai, but they also know that Mugabe would be heavily defeated in a second round. And with Simba backing Morgan in the event of a run-off, they knew it was time for a compromise.”

While the Western media is delirious with joy at the idea that Mugabe is finished, the scenario played out by Chanetsa is a far more intelligent reading of the governance and power realities that prevail even in the event that Mugabe accepts defeat and gracefully steps down. The relatively small margins of Tsvangirai’s presidential and parliamentary victories, and the surprisingly high proportions of votes for Mugabe and ZANU-PF mean that the power dynamics remain very fluid.

It would be unfair and un-natural to expect Tsvangirai to warmly embrace a government of national unity, particularly one in which he is not the leader. But the reality of the situation may very well make such a compromise possible, desirable and a very good way forward for Zimbabwe.

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