Hardliners in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party of President Robert Mugabe have used their absolute control of state institutions and security forces to perpetrate a wave of violence and intimidation against Tsvangirai supporters in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Tsvangirai had wanted to believe that despite the terror, a real vote was still possible, but now he has accepted that this is simply not the case. Regardless of the real result, Mugabe would have himself declared the winner anyway. There was no reason to play the game and give Mugabe’s stolen victory any hint of legitimacy.
In the first round of legislative and presidential elections on 29 March, the MDC won a clear majority in parliament. Announcement of the presidential results was delayed by five weeks while Mugabe’s supporters prepared their survival strategy; including manipulating the results to ensure a run-off was required between front-running Tsvangirai and Mugabe. The regime had thus already subverted democracy, and by all accounts, intends to do so again in the run-off.
International support for Mugabe is disappearing fast even among his one-time supporters in the region. South African President Thabo Mbeki, the regional negotiator who has long been perceived as a weak reed in pressure to end Zimbabwe’s national nightmare, has acknowledged Mugabe is no longer in a position to win a legitimate election.
The international community, and especially regional actors observing the polls, must stand by Tsvangirai’s decision and make it crystal clear to Mugabe and his party that he will gain no legitimacy from a self-proclaimed and fraudulent run-off victory – nor by simply declaring himself the unopposed winner. Mugabe should not be allowed to use this cynical exercise to perpetuate his power or to insist that he be able to hand the presidency off to a chosen successor if he decides to leave office as a result of negotiations.
Regional leaders and the wider world should unequivocally support the MDC’s decision to boycott this fundamentally marred poll. They must send the message that they will not deal with a fraudulent government that has used extreme violence to come to power.
Most parties and experts inside and outside the country agree that Zimbabwe’s best option would be a Mugabe-free government of national unity between the Movement for Democratic Change and Zanu-PF. One desirable outcome would be negotiation of a unity government with Tsvangirai as head of government and a moderate Zanu-PF leader in a secondary position as president.
The sticking point is the future role of Mugabe in a transitional arrangement. Tsvangirai rejects any role for Mugabe but is open to power-sharing with some members of his party, a position supported by key regional leaders helping to work towards a solution, including Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania. By contrast, Mbeki said last week that Mugabe should hang on as head of state until his succession has been organised.
The Movement for Democratic Change has approached senior military officials to win them over to a negotiated end to the crisis and a restoration of the democratic process. Will the hardliners and the security services get on board? The current violence would suggest otherwise. Top opposition leaders have been repeatedly arrested and detained in an effort to thwart their campaigning. Their supporters have been targeted by violence, forcing them to flee their homes, and some have been coerced into exchanging their voters’ registration cards to access increasingly rare food.
As many as 100 supporters of the MDC have been killed, while hundreds have been subjected to torture or assault. More than 30,000 people have been displaced following this new wave of violence. Further, several leaders of the security services have publicly stated that they would never recognise Tsvangirai as head of state. They have indicated that even if the opposition leader is able to pull off an electoral win, they will take up arms to retain their hold on power. These warnings follow Mugabe’s statements that he will not accept an MDC victory. In such an atmosphere, Tsvangirai had little choice but to reject this election, as the world must now also do.
Violence has been spreading in Zimbabwe, and anarchy and civil war are looming with the risk of a split within the security forces. This would have grave consequences for not only Zimbabwe, but also the rest of southern Africa and beyond. But this result is not inevitable. Even at this late moment, there are courageous advocates for peace and reconciliation working for a negotiated solution both inside the country and in the region. They deserve international support.
Francois Grignon is Africa Program Director at the International Crisis GroupPost published in: News