Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Zim election’

Heckling scene at Parliament strengthens Mugabe’s ‘democratic’ credentials

Posted by CM on August 27, 2008

Mugabe’s heckling by MDC MPs during his opening speech at Parliament yesterday has got some people beside themselves with excitement.

All the various publications that carried it essentially recycled the same story, but each trying to out-compete all the others with the superlatives used.

“Howls of derision echo through Zim Parliament” screamed the Mail and Guardian.

“Robert Mugabe humiliated as Zimbabwe parliament opens,” joyfully cried the UK Daily Telegraph. Opinionist-masquerading-as-journalist Peta Thornycroft was so delighted she guessed, ‘This was probably the first time that Mr Mugabe, who is shielded from public criticism, has ever faced an openly hostile audience.’

Many other reports on the heckling wondered if it, together with the MDC’s majority and the first-ever election of an opposition MP as Speaker, heralded a fundamental shift in Zimbabwe’s power relations.

That could very well be the case, and would be true in a ‘normal’ democracy, but this cannot at all be taken for granted in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has been counted out countless times before and has always managed to come back for another fight; stronger, more determined, uncompromising and ruthless.

As soon as the opening was held,  parliament went on recess until October, delaying the answers to exactly what the changes will mean to the conduct of parliamentary business, and whether any of those changes will filter down to making any difference to “the man on the street.”

I have yet to see any photos of Mugabe’s reaction during the heckling when he was delivering his speech. It would be entirely natural for him to be unsettled at such heckling, but I would be surprised if he really took it hard, as if he were surprised that a significant proportion of Zimbabweans cannot stand him. Now that he seems well on his way to achieving his overall aim of staying on in power for five more years, I suspect he will simply adjust to the heckling on the very few occasions on which he has to address parliament. As long as he remains president, I believe tough old Mugabe will simply get used to taking occasional heckling, at what has mostly been a window-dressing, ceremonial parliament anyway, as the small price he must pay for holding on to power.

The police and the whole Mugabe authority seemed really petty to chase down and arrest several MDC parliamentarians for one or another ‘offence’ just before and and after the session of parliament. MDC MPs are not necessarily any more paragons of virtue than the rest of us, so it would not be surprising if a few did have police ‘cases to answer.’ But the manner and timing of their questioning and/or arrests was really poor, even by the low standards of the Mugabe regime.

But interestingly, if Mugabe can prevent his goons from their typical over-zealousness, he could turn the MDC presence in parliament, heckling and all, to his favour. It is unprecedented for an African president to ‘accept’ the ‘humiliation’ of being heckled like he was. He did not call out the army and air force to bomb the opposition benches as might be expected of a man who has been painted as the world’s most blood-thirsty ogre. Instead he ploughed through the heckling to finish his speech.

As long as he retains the biggest price of being the supreme ruler, he could actually say to the world: ‘You see, we have a fully functioning democracy in Zimbabwe, in which I can be heckled in parliament in a way that in many other countries would result in many deaths.’

It is true that many things will be different with the several changes Mugabe has reluctantly had to accept. But the sly old fox is far from finished. For now he still retains all the instruments of real power, regardless of how much singing and hurling of insults opposition MPs engage in during his speeches.

Let’s wait and see what develops in the coming weeks and months.

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The significance, or otherwise, of an MDC parliamentary Speaker

Posted by CM on August 27, 2008

So the MDC’s Tsvangirai faction has succeeded in using its parliamentary majority to elect Zimbabwe’s first non-ZANU PF Speaker.

I have never read so many articles within the space of a few hours telling me how ‘powerful’ the Speaker’s position is in the political scheme of things in Zimbabwe.

Unprecedented and historic, yes. But is it quite the earthquake that many observers have predicted (or hoped for)?

I think it’s way too early to say. There was the same excitement when the MDC won an unprecedented 57 seats in the parliamentary election of 2000, scaring the wits out of Mugabe. ZANU-PF might have still had a majority, but many dared hope that the coming into Parliament of so many opposition legislators would do wonders for debate and democracy.

Instead, Mugabe simply dug into his old bag of tricks and came up with a solution to this mild inconvenience. He simply made sure that Parliament was more peripheral than ever to the real exercise of power. It continued to exist in name but was simply made largely irrelevant.

Oh, sure, on the seemingly increasingly infrequent times in which it was in session, MDC MPs would occasionally be able to do a little bit of heckling and ask some embarrassing questions (usually ignored or deflected). Some MDC MPs served on various committees with their ZANU-PF counter parts for the first time. But other than that, nothing much changed for the ordinary Zimbabwean.

Are things going to be any different now that the MDC has a slight majority and a Speaker from within its ranks?  (Yawn, scratch) Let’s wait and see but I woudn’t bet on it. I don’t believe the wily Mugabe is out of tricks yet.

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Talks offer Zimbabwe the chance of a new beginning

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

There was a lot of symbolism to digest at July 22nd’s historic meeting between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe looked even more surly than usual. It seemed clear he had been brought there kicking and screaming by the circumstances of his own awkward and embarrassing recent self-coronation and the disgust of even many who have been his knee-jerk sympathisers. Mr. Mugabe did not at all look like a man who was in a triumphant or celebratory mood over the recent election which he “won” by being the only candidate. He was a sorry, sulky sight.

Tsvangirai was pictured grinning from ear to ear, not seeming to believe he was there at all and finally having to be taken seriously by a Mugabe he knows has utter contempt for him.

Arthur Mutambara was pictured in one of his usual bombastic poses, trying a little too hard to look powerful and dynamic. Here is a man who has done little or nothing to justify being taken seriously as a political player, but he somehow worked himself there. The handful of MPs of his small faction of the opposition are how he found himself there of course, but they do not offer any vision or ideological differences from Tsvangirai’s MDC faction. Their participation in the talks will be mostly about making sure they are included in whatever spoils are parceled out: positions, cars and the other normal perks of the parasitic political class.

Poor Simba Makoni couldn’t talk his way there, not helped by the poor showing of his upstart, formed-just-before-the-election political movement. Yet Makoni has been  insisting to anybody who would listen that he was central to the resolution of The Crisis. An AFP report:”I cannot explain my absence from that signing ceremony,” the former finance minister told South African public radio, saying “many Zimbabweans” believed his movement should have a role in both the current talks and the future of the country.

“Many Zimbabweans” possibly being his family and hangers on who would have liked to have been there to simply be in the receiving line for any goodies that may be given out.

Thabo Mbeki played it surprisingly cool for a man seemingly on the brink of vindication after years of quietly suffering vilification for his insistence on “quiet diplomacy.”

It was conspicuously an all-African affair despite the valiant failed efforts of Britain and the US to work their way to the center of determining how The Zimbabwe Crisis is resolved. They have all been calling for some kind of negotiated settlement, but it will be interesting to see if they will be happy with a settlement in which they do not dictate the terms!

Gordon Brown, the EU & Co. have also insisted they would not be happy with any deal in which Mugabe remained in power. There is approximately zero prospect of Mugabe agreeing to step down unceremoniously, or even to accept a window-dressing role, so it will also be interesting to hear what sputtering comes from those foreign quarters to a Zimbabwean-negotiated, South African-aided deal that offers much less than they hope: the final exit of a Mugabe who has been a thorn in their flesh, with what kind of ruler he has been for Zimbabweans being a very distant second consideration in their raw, emotional distaste of him. It would be entirely excusable to them if he was merely a despot but who did as he was told, but the man insists on hurling the Anglo-American foreign policy and historical hypocrisies in their faces.

But the worst panic and disappointment at even the slightest hint of moves to resolve The Zimbabwe Crisis will surely be felt by the British media. What on earth would The Daily Telegraph, The Times of London and the Guardian have to write about if Mugabe was taken away from them as a target of their hysteria? Where on earth would they find another such perfect villain to serve as the object of their deeply racial, post-colonial angst? That hysteria is not for the stated reason that Mugabe has become a repressive despot, which he is. His greater sin is being an African native who dares to speak and act towards the Western world like an equal of theirs!

The Western world has insisted their targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his henchmen have been to moderate their behaviour, a claimed goal that over the years has failed miserably. But just when for the first time Mugabe has felt the heat of world pressure and economic trouble at home to come to the negotiating table, the EU under Gordon Brown’s pressure ups the sanctions ante! If sanctions are part of why Mugabe feels under pressure to now talk, how is increasing those sanctions at the point of

Talks don’t mean mean Zimbabwe is out of the words. Many have mentioned how Mugabe’s does not have a good record of negotiating in good faith, how he is accustomed to conceding little or nothing and why Tsvangirai should be on the alert for simply being co-opted as Mugabe has done with other opponents after first softening them up with ferocious violence.

There is also the considerable issue of the genuinely deep ideological divide between Mugabe and ZANU-PF on one hand and Tsvangirai and the MDC on the other. Kenya’s coalition government may be an uneasy one, but there are at least no ideological differences between the two main partners the way there are in Zimbabwe. Nothing is impossible, but even if the two parties agree to give it a try, it is hard to imagine they could really live together for long as co-governing coalition. The many differences between them are vast, deep and wide.

But Zimbabwe is on its knees and desperately needs to stop the bleeding. Any chance to do that must be explored, no matter how great the obstacles to success seem.

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I don’t believe the purported South African peace plan stands a chance

Posted by CM on July 8, 2008

The July 7 edition of the UK paper The Guardian had a story about a claimed peace plan for ZANU-PF and the MDC brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki which the opposition party is is said to have been pleasantly surprised it could live with.

The plan which is said to have been presented to Zimbabwe’s political leaders “would allow Robert Mugabe to remain as a titular head of state but surrender real power to the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who would serve as prime minister until a new constitution was negotiated and fresh elections held.”

One can immediately see why MDC leaders would eagerly find an easy way out of their problem of failing to budge Mugabe out of power in such a plan and jump to embrace it. Indeed, “Chris McGreal in Harare” quotes his MDC source as saying “all the basic ideas of the MDC are there”, including a recognition of the results of the first round of elections in March won by Tsvangirai, which would be met by making the MDC leader an executive prime minister.

“The important thing is that it recognises the outcome of the March 29 election, and that any government will be transitional on the way to new elections,” the article quotes the source as saying.

As an aside, it is interesting how the The Guardian seems to have embedded itself within the MDC and become the party’s official mouthpiece. One can see how the recent call for military intervention under Tsvangirai’s byline mysteriously appeared in the paper, only to be hastily repudiated by Tsvangirai and quickly taken down from the paper’s website. The MDC’s closeness to The Guardian may yet come back to haunt it.

It seems incredibly far-fetched to believe Mugabe would accept any power-sharing plan that gives real power to Tsvangirai and merely ceremonial power to him. The very thing about the plan that Tsvangirai and the MDC would find so attractive is precisely why any such plan would be rejected out of hand by Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

If Mbeki did indeed present such a proposal, it would represent a fundamental misreading of the reasons for Mugabe’s intransigence about gracefully leaving power. The plan seems to assume that it is merely a matter of ego, and that Mugabe would respond to growing international pressure on him to accept some kind of deal with Tsvangirai by a ‘face-saving’ offer to give him a title with no real power. There is nothing at all in Mugabe’s past to give any inkling that he could live with an arrangement in which he was a window dresser. This is especially so in a situation where real power was held by someone for whom he has as much genuine contempt for as he does for Tsvangirai.

The egotistical reasons for Mugabe clinging on to power only partly explain his actions. Power for him  and his cronies has to a large extent become a matter of access and retention of privilege and impunity it is true, but it would be a mistake to under-estimate their genuine determination to resist any arrangement that threatens a wholesale reversal of “the gains of the revolution.”

What gains in a non-performing economy, one may ask? The main one they would find difficult to swallow would be the wholesale return of farms to their previous white occupiers. And this is a worry that would be shared by many of the recipients of land who are not Mugabe supporters. Focus is usually on the relatively few well-developed farms that were taken over and often run down by the politically well-connected. But what is forgotten are the many more bare pieces of land that many ordinary people of all political persuasions also eagerly applied for and received.

Many of the very same people who voted for Tsvangirai and the MDC and would be happy for them to form or dominate the next government would be up in arms at the idea of their land simply being returned to the white farmers. Assuming the MDC could pull that off at all, it would be politically crippled before it even got started, seeming to confirm the constant Mugabe refrain that the MDC was nothing but a  black-fronted project for British and white interests.

The bitter apathy to the MDC by Mugabe and ZANU-PF diehards is not just selfish and personal. It is also deeply ideological in a way that Mugabe would be very unlikely to accept a power-sharing arrangement such as that The Guardian says Mbeki is proposing.

Perhaps no one will ever know whether the long-delayed results of the March 29 election were genuine or not. Initially the MDC claimed that its own figures showed Tsvangirai breaching the required minimum of 50% of the vote and earning the right to be declared president at that first round. The official figures showed Tsvangirai several points ahead of Mugabe, but without achieving 50% of the votes cast, hence necessitating the infamous run-off election that Tsvangirai pulled out of at the last minute. And the official results also show an almost 50/50 split between the two main parties in parliamentary and senatorial seats.

What this means is that in the unlikely event that Mugabe and ZANU-PF were to accept a junior (as opposed to equal or more senior) role in any power-sharing arrangement, things would be far from easy for a Tsvangirai-led government. For one thing, half the cabinet seats and other formal spolis of power would be retained by ZANU-PF. For another, all the security forces who wield the guns would likely remain loyal to ZANU-PF. I am not sure Tsvangirai would be able to wield enough patronage-dispensing power of his own to break this ZANU-PF lock on the support of the security forces, even those who are tired of Mugabe but deeply suspicious of Tsvangirai. This is not merely a matter of Mugabe having tried very hard to keep his top military men happy over the years, but also because of shared experiences and ideological/nationalistic orientations from the liberation war that cannot just be bought off with positions, cars and houses.

I would not be surprised if the MDC’s strongers backers, the British government, have not already cooked up a scheme as part of their proposed aid-to-Zimbabwe-under-a-Tsvangirai-government plan to helpfully “professionalise” the armed forces for us, but that’s a rant for another day, my blood pressure is constantly high enough over my homeland as things are already.

I’m sticking my neck out and guessing that there is no way Mugabe would accept being figurehead president to Tsvangirai’s executive prime-ministership. At the very least, Mugabe would insist on equal power with Tsvangirai, which would cause all kinds of problems for the coalition because of the deep, fundamental incompatibility of the two men and their parties, and the upper hand ZANU-PF would continue to enjoy in many unofficial ways.

I would actually even be surprised if such a power-sharing proposal really did emanate from Mbeki. Whatever his faults, I believe he knows more than most what Mugabe would be likely to accept or reject.

Perhaps it is just The Guardian flighting a trial balloon on behalf of the MDC to see if it could actually stay afloat! It sure as hell is interesting to see that paper increasingly become the party’s public relations arm.

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On Tsvangirai’s Wall Street Journal article

Posted by CM on April 7, 2008

Putative but not yet installed president Morgan Tsvangirai has recently become quite the writer, with recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and in today’s The Guardian.

Let’s see what might be picked up from his thoughts in the WSJ of March 21, just over a week before the recent election, in his opinion piece headlined “Freedom for Zimbabwe.”

Mr. Tsvangirai starts his article off with a bang. “Daily, the representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the political party that I lead, are harassed, tortured, imprisoned without trial and even killed,” he writes.

There is no doubt about the onslaught the MDC has been under for years, and I don’t doubt the harassment increased in the days and weeks before the election, despite this also being lauded as a fairly peaceful election even by the MDC itself. It is important to remember “peaceful,” meaning here the relative absence of systematic, wholesale violence, does not necessarily imply the “free and fair” conditions that we so often talk about without precise definition.

But writing for a distant US audience, the wording of the sentence I have quoted suggests that torture and murder of MDC representatives are daily occurrences. Any death linked to election violence would be one too many. But any evidence of a pattern of daily murders of MDC members would be a pogrom that Zimbabweans would surely be widely aware of, and that the world needs to be provided evidence of. Mugabe’s regime is brutal, but I have not heard even the MDC claim that its officials or members are being targeted for murder in the way Tsvangirai’s wording suggests. No one I know of from any quarter has claimed that there have been any election-connected deaths at all in the run up to the just ended election, although I certainly stand to be corrected.

The average Zimbabwean reader would understand that Tsvangirai probably did not mean to imply the daily targeting for murder of his officials that the sentence could be intepreted to mean. But I think that is precisely how the primarily American audience of the WSJ article are likely to have understood it. Americans have not only been primed to think that Zimbabwe is a war-zone, they are already conditioned to think the absolute worst about Africa. And of course in this case, this fits in with the ogre that Mugabe has been painted to be, which far exceeds the reality of his still oppressive rule.

Overstating things in the way Tsvangirai does in the first part of his paragraph is probably considered fair game in the propaganda war against Mugabe, who is himself not above these sorts of tactics. And it allows a Tsvangirai who had expected to be sitting in the presidential palace at this point after the election, to cast himself to the Americans as a particularly brave fighter against the image-battered Mugabe.

Tsvangirai is indeed brave but pandering to American ignorance and prejudices about Africa in this way is a most unfortunate way to wage his propaganda war against Mugabe. The way this careless kind of tactic feeds American stereotypes about Africa and distorts the reality in Zimbabwe does at least as much long term damage as whatever benefits it might win Tsvangirai in the short term.

Before I am beyond the first paragraph of an article I am hoping will give me helpful insights into the thinking of a man who hopes to get my vote and to be my president, I am already asking myself, “What is he trying to do with this kind of language?” Assure and woo potential investors from among the WSJ’s prestigious readership? Ingratiate himself with the US political establishment? Rally the support and sympathy of Americans for his fight against Mugabe? Whichever it is, I am already very uncomfortable that he so makes his point by the kind of careless distortion implied by the phrase in his article I have picked on, whether the implication of a campaign of systematic daily murder was deliberate or just an “innocent” slip.

Having lived in the US, one of the things that would make my blood boil most frequently were just the kind of often crude stereotypes about Africa that pertain there, and that Tsvangirai walks right into by overstating the security situation in Zimbabwe at the time of writing his article. So after paragraph one of the article, I am not feeling too favourably disposed towards my possible future president.

Maybe I’mjust uptight, overly sensitive and critical of Tsvangirai and need to give the man a break. Let us move along with his article.

Tsvangirai then spends the bulk of the rest of the article highlighting Zimbabwe’s main problems over the last few years, Mugabe’s role in bringing them about and in broadly outlining how he and the MDC propose to address them. The way he identifies the economic issues and his prescriptions no doubt were sweet music to his WSJ readers. The article displays a faith in classic IMF-World Bank-US style thinking about how nations should get ahead.

…committment to protecting persons and property…compessions for those who lost property in an unjust way…balance between reconciliation and accountability…restoring the independence of the judiciary…slashing bureaucratic red tape…will open economic opportunity to all Zimbabweans…taming the government’s appetite for spending…reduction of the number of ministers to 15…government will have to live within its means…Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe must become independent of the government…Most state-owned companies are woefully inefficient, will be privatized or shut down…

Most of this sounds harmless enough and is the kind of non-specific campaign rhetoric one would expect from any politician following the script of the reigning paradigm of how the world is currently economically structured. Tsvangirai gives no indication that he recognises that there has been a raging debate across the world about the effectiveness and benefits of classic IMF thinking about how to alleviate poverty and foster widespread economic growth in developing countries. Many of the most dynamic developing countries actually owe their progress to discarding classic IMF-style advice which assumes free markets that all economies have equal access to, to give just one example. The need to slash public spending, another central tenet of that kind of economic dogma is now questioned by many economists.

However, even for those of his broad recovery proposals I am not completely at ease with, I still grant that countries that intend to get ahead economically must just be pragmatic enough to accept that they must master the rules of the game as it is played in the world today, rather than hope that they can first change those rules. This means finding ways of manouvering around the many parts of that game that are “unfair,” rather than just whining about the unfairness. This is a big part of the lesson we can learn from the emerging economies of Asia.

But I have the uncomfortable feeling that Tsvngirai is pandering to his American audience, trying too hard to impress and win over a foreign audience before he has won me, a Zimbabwean, over. The WSJ is surely a prestigious publication to get an article published in, but how relevant is that for a person running for president of a country in southern Africa? When last did Mr. Tsvangirai write an article for a Zimbabwe-dedicated website or publication ? Or even for any publication primarily read by Africans, whether on the continent or abroad. My point is not at all that he should not have written for the WSJ, but that this to me is a further reason to worry about his whole orientation.

I do not want another president who is a paranoid isolationist in the mould of Mugabe. But I do want a president who is more careful and smarter about his engagement with the Western world than I believe Tsvangirai to be. That for me partly means being cognisicant of Africa’s history and how being patted on the head as a good boy by Western powers can be an initially flattering blessing that may come back to haunt a naive politician. I want a president who has a deep knowledge of African history and of Africa’s present day aspirations to engage positively with the West, but with a cool, wary head, not a childish sort of over-excitement.

I know I am only supposed to be concerned about how the country can effect its rejection of Mugabe at the ballot last week. I am choosing to look ahead beyond that to try and say, “Tsvangirai, beware;watch your back.”

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Who do the voters think they are?

Posted by CM on April 7, 2008

Robert Mugabe has long argued that by the standards the Western world uses for what qualifies as “democracy,” Zimbabwe passes with flying colours.

For instance, elections have been held pretty much on time without fail since independence in 1980, which is a lot more than can be said for many other countries that are neverthless on good terms with the West, unlike Zimbabwe. Rwanda and Uganda immediately come to mind, but there are many others. Opposition parties and critical newspapers exist. There is a parliament, there is in theory a Western-style separation of powers and so on.

Mugabe also points out correctly that it his party that “brought democracy” by overturning white minority rule. “How dare the very people who resisted our efforts for self-rule lecture us about democracy?” has been one of the difficult to refute criticisms he has hurled back at the British at his criticism of his rule.

We now know of course that it is possible to have the shells of the institutions and electoral processes that we have been told constitute “democracy” without actually seeing very much of that democracy. When Mugabe’s 1980s-era plans to introduce a one party state were thwarted, he found that it was quite possible to have the same effect even in a situation where opposition parties existed. So he became a master at co-opting or beating down his opponents. Parliament exists, but has pretty much always been a rubber stamp for whatever he wanted to do. Even when the MDC won a sizeable number of seats in the election of 2000, the influence of parliament on anything shrunk even more than the situation when it was almost completely composed of ZANU-PF “legislators.”

But despite the many imperfections of the system, Zimbabwe under Mugabe has indeed had all the forms of “democracy,” if not the substance. Gordon Brown has not stood before British voters as a candidate for prime minister.  The American election that gave George Bush his second term in office was messy at best. So is Mugabe a dictator or a democrat?

He is both. He is a stickler for a kind of formalism in a very British way. Parliament must therefore exist and he enjoys opening each session with an awkward kind of colonial pomp and ceremony, complete with the trip in a classic open-top Rolls Royce, horse riders at its side and with a heavy gold ceremonial chain draped around his neck.

But the Mugabe who is very attached to these shows of the trappings of British-style parliamentary procedure is also brilliant at thwarting its essence. Parliament exists as a body but all effective power is in Mugabe’s hands. When parliament can usefully serve as a veneer of legitimising “democracy,” that is fine. But if it has significant members of the opposition and brings up uncomfortable issues, simple: simply ignore it.

Similarly, when the electorate votes in the “right” way, the polls are used as a sign of how “democratic” the country is. Humble sounding speeches are made about how the leaders respect “the people.” But when the voters get wayward and drift towards the opposition, the thin veneer of “democracy” is replaced by the menace” of  “you voters have been confused and misled, you don’t really know what you are doing.”

Zimbabwe under Mugabe has been a test book example of how elections themselves can be used to thwart democracy. A big continuing challenge is to evolve ways for democracy to be reflected by much more than the mere existence of multiple political parties, and for the elections to genuinely be processes that reflect the public will.

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Makoni to be Tsvangirai’s finance minister?

Posted by CM on April 2, 2008

With the parliamentary election having been such a close contest, the handful of seats won by the Mutambara faction of the MDC will obviously be important in the power tug of war between ZANU-PF and the main MDC faction.
It is hard to imagine that the Mutambara MPs would agree to align with ZANU-PF to possibly form a coalition with the slimmest of majorities over the MDC, but nothing is impossible. And Mugabe is a master at buying people with inducements of one type or another, although he is such a weakened “brand” at the moment that any politican would have to think about the serious long-term (and perhaps short term as well) consequences of getting onto a sinking ship, regardless of the carrots dangled.
Simba Makoni’s people (if he had any!) did not win any seats, although if he had won the presidential contest many of those who won parliamentary seats on a ZANU-PF ticket would have claimed to have been his silent supporters.But Makoni may have some bargaining power in the uncertainty of the present impasse. A Tsvangirai presidency must worry about not having liberation war-era credibility in a political environment in which that still means a lot, and in which a strong ZANU-PF minority could exploit that to say, “see what Tsvangirai is doing with his recovery policies, he’s giving the country back to the British colonizers.” This would be especially true if Tsvangirai attempts any wholesale reversal of the seizures of previously white-owned farms.

So it is very much in Tsvangirai’s interests to find a way of neutralising this threat. Roping in Makoni into his cabinet may be one way of doing so. This would help to get many secret ZANU-PF supporters of Makoni’s onto the Tsvangirai bandwagon, and to begin to lure them from the spell of whatever Mugabe may try to offer to avoid mass defections from a disempowered, disoriented ZANU-PF.

An completely unverifiable rumour beginning to do the rounds is that Simba Makoni has been offered his one time post of minister of finance in Tsvangirai’s cabinet. This would be a smart move on Tsvangirai’s part, and for Makoni, would be a way for him to avoid slinking off into political oblivion. There are also stories doing the rounds of ZANU-PF officials seriously wooing Makoni to support Mugabe instead. The closeness of the race may well make Makoni a king maker.

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MDC parliamentary majority only significant if Mugabe goes

Posted by CM on April 2, 2008

So the official election results and those of the MDC on the parliamentary polls agree: The MDC has a wafer thin majority.

This is of huge symbolic significance but will only have practical political meaning if Tsvangirai is also declared president. If, as Mugabe & Co. might still be gambling, they “concede” parliament to the MDC but decide to have Mugabe tough things out and hang on to the presidency, then the MDC having the majority in parliament will mean nothing.

Parliament has never been allowed to have anywhere near the over-sight authority it should. When it was almost exclusively ZANU-PF before 2000 it was a mere rubber stamp for whatever legislation Mugabe wanted passed. When the MDC won a substantial minority of seats in the general election of 2000, the role of parliament was weakened and reduced so that the opposition party could not even nip at the ruling party’s heels effectively.

In a normal parliamentary democracy it is close to untenable for a president to be from one party and the legislature to be dominated by a different party, especially when the two are at such poles apart as are ZANU-PF and the MDC. The president in such a situation would effectively be a lame duck, unable to have his bills passed. But Mugabe has and would simply avoid parliament and try to carry on with all effective power concentrated in his person.

But the first time ever moral authority of having the electoral commission certify that the MDC won more parliamentary seats than Mugabe’s party makes any gambit short of an outright coup difficult to sustain as a strategy for him to hang on.

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Electoral ‘massacre’ of ZANU-PF would be undesirable

Posted by CM on April 1, 2008

Let us assume that Mugabe and ZANU-PF realise that the game is up and concede defeat to Tsvangirai and the MDC.

It would be a welcome breath of fresh air for Zimbabwe to have its first post-independence government without Mugabe and ZANU-PF at the helm. But it is not in the country’s interests for the MDC’s win to be the electoral ‘masaccre’ of ZANU-PF that the opposition party’s official Tendai Biti boasted about soon after the end of voting.

I would like ZANU-PF to be a significant minority in parliament, hopefully keeping the MDC in check and avoiding some of the power excesses that intoxicated the outgoing ruling party into inevitable decline. This may be wishful thinking about the political motivations of a party that had been reduced to access to the spoils of power rather than about serving the electorate. But perhaps the humbling experience of being rejected by the voters might convert some ZANU-PF parliamentarians into effective watch dogs over the MDC.

This will be very necessary, as the MDC is likely to soon become a feeding frenzy over perks and privileges. It is a pity that Mugabe would exit the scene at such an advanced age and in disgrace. He would have been brilliant as leader of the opposition, keeping the MDC on its toes and running circles around Tsvangirai in many ways.

Before Tsvangirai and the MDC mutate into power-drunk monster, which will happen within their  first 12 months in power, we need to have a ZANU-PF that is poised to be a strong opposition party, to revive a rude, irreverent independent media, to start rebuilding an independent judiciary and to have various strong, non-partisan citizen political interest groups.

The time to start watching the MDC like a hawk is now, not tomorrow.

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May I be the first to congratulate Mugabe

Posted by CM on January 26, 2008

The presidential and general election are set for March 29 but one result is already obvious: Robert Mugabe is going to be returned as president.

Two months before the election, I might as well be the first to congratulate Mugabe on his assured win.

In a way it really is a waste of time to hold the election at all because there are so many signals that there is no way any other result than a “win” for Mugabe will be contemplated. Whether or not Mugabe is still “popular” is an interesting but largely irrelevant issue to the outcome of this election.

This creates quite a dilemma for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. There are virtually no circumstances under which he can win the election, even if many more people vote for him than for Mugabe, so his participation would largely be a charade. Yet if he pulls out he will be accused of being afraid of losing. He is in a no-win situation in a quite literal way.

But so is Mugabe, the impending “winner.” The possibly ghastly consequences for him of his being turned out of office at the ballot box are obvious, and are just one reason that it will not happen. Yet his “win” on March 29 will be hollow and meaningless in many ways, particularly for the country, but for him as an individual as well.

The country he rules over may be in a shameful mess as he wrings his hands and looks for ever more imaginative excuses for that state of affairs, but Mugabe still has his pockets of sympathy and support. But it is also true that a significant body of world opinion regards him as such an oppressive ogre that they will automatically assume he stole the election.

It may be only Zimbabweans who vote in the election, but how Mugabe is negatively regarded in influential sections of the world has been a significant factor in his being helpless and ineffective in practical terms. He is now a long-serving lame duck president. Whichever of Zimbabwe’s many long-running problems you choose to examine, there is no one who any longer believes Mugabe is going to come up with some sensible, workable solution.

Those who support him do not any longer do it for the reason that they believe the country’s fortunes will improve if he is given five more years to the 27 that he has already served. To many of those supporters, Mugabe represents an anti-Western symbolism for which his uselessness to Zimbabweans’ material fortunes can be excused. For them, the fact that Zimbabwe is in such a poor state and has little prospect of reversing that decline under a Mugabe with seemingly no workable ideas is neither here nor there. After all, he speaks such good English when he insults the British and the Americans and oh, look at how elegantly he wears his British suits!

Likewise, those for whom Mugabe mainly represents the celebration of state violence and oppression against the citizens will see no redeeming qualities in the man no matter what he does.

Mugabe, therefore, will have no net gain in credibility from his win. He is also unlikely to have any net loss in credibility, but the chances of a net loss are higher than that of a net gain. This depends on factors like whether he can control himself from permitting the brutalization of opposition leaders by the police and then delightedly crowing about it. It is this kind of short-sighted previous buffoonery that has contributed to the current reality in which he will in many respects still be a “loser” even if he “wins” the election.

An interesting aspect of the corner Mugabe has worked himself into with the notoriety that he seems to enjoy, but which has been so costly to the country, is that many people would not believe his victory was clean and legitimate even if it was. More than at any time before, the only electoral outcome which many onlookers would believe to be “free and fair” would be the one that is not going to happen: his losing!

So whatever the election “win” will represent for Mugabe, a significant strengthening of his international legitimacy will not be one of them. His opponents will assume electoral crookedness in his win, and his supporters will not care whether his continuing in power was because he genuinely won the most votes or not.

Mugabe’s “win” will mean business as usual for him and his ruling clique. It will also mean there is no reason to expect any change in the country’s fortunes. The “illegal sanctions” that Mugabe blames for his utter helplessness to make any positive change will continue, the increasingly desperate economic experiments will continue, inflation will continue shooting up and so on. A Mugabe “win” means nothing would have changed to give even his supporters any reason to hope that these things will be brought under control or reversed.

For Mugabe, his new mandate will mean he will continue to have power in the physical, military sense, which perhaps is all that matters to him now. He can hire and fire ministers and other functionaries, he can make life uncomfortable for opponents, he can preside over ceremonial things and so forth. But there is no reason to believe that he will be any better able to deal with the day to day issues of survival that occupy most Zimbabweans than he has been in the last several years of steep decline. His presidential role will ever more be that of tin-pot dictator, not leader and motivator/facilitator of positive change.

It is very difficult to know if the opposition MDC is coming or going, so confusing is the state of affairs between its two factions and within them. Even if they had their act together, there is no way to tell what kind of government they would make. But clearly, if it were possible to have a “free and fair” election, their presidential candidate would have a very good chance of convincingly beating Mugabe just on the basis of the disastrous state of the country after his 27 years at the helm, and his utter lack of any credible plan to change that situation. He is not even pretending to have anything to offer.

Given the foregoing, the lone permissible outcome of Mugabe’s assured win on March 29, by hook or by crook, is an assured loss for Zimbabwe.

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