Mugabe opts for runoff

The Independent reports that Robert Mugabe has opted for a runoff in the Zimbabwean presidential election, after the conclusion of a meeting of his top party leaders.

Despite this announcement, there is still no official release of results from last Saturday’s first round.

I am not sure what the game is that Mugabe is playing here. Yes, under the rules, if his challenger, Morgan Tsvangarai, really did earn only 48 or 49% of the vote in the first round, a runoff is required. However, this is obviously no ordinary democratic two-round presidential election. And already it has been officially acknowledged that his party lost control of the assembly for the first time. (The same news item indicates that ZANU-PF will challenge the results in 16 seats. If they can overturn most of those, they would get their majority back, I hesitate to imagine what the social consequences of such a decision would be.)

It is virtually impossible that, in anything close to a free contest, Mugabe could win a runoff, based on unofficial results that show his main opponent so close to the majority already and Mugabe himself around 43%. He would need virtually every vote of the third candidate, Simba Makoni, in order to pull it off. Makoni was until quite recently a member of Mugabe’s inner circle. Had he not run, it is likely that this would have been a very close two-man race and one Mugabe might have been able to steal (assuming much of what became Makoni’s voter base had stayed with ZANU-PF or could have semi-credibly claimed to have). That may have been what Mugabe was counting on, till Makoni entered the race. However, now that the assembly results are out, as is information about the general shape of the presidential vote, and given that a faction of the MDC that ran separately and won assembly seats has now indicated it will throw its support to the mainstream MDC, it is almost inconceivable that Mugabe could reverse this result.

It is even more likely that some votes would shift from Mugabe to Tsvangarai in a runoff, given the revelation of information to previously cowed voters that the old dictator can actually be defeated. ((I am reminded of the results of the first semi-free Albanian election in 1990, where a parliamentary election was held under a two-round rule. Most of the districts that went to a second round saw a collapse of the ruling party’s votes relative to the first round.))

Of course, there remains the possibility that Mugabe believes he can change the second-round results fundamentally through intimidation. Already there have been ominous signs, including a raid yesterday on the opposition by security forces. Chaos could be Mugabe’s short-term ally, but then what? By law, the runoff should be within 21 days of the first round. But Mugabe is apparently trying to have it set for up to 90 days thereafter, to give security forces time to clamp down.

I will admit to having a hard time seeing how Mugabe turns this around now, though the quiescence of Tsvagari so far may be giving Mugabe an opening to exploit. And if the security forces remain fully loyal and ruthless, a total crackdown may be coming. The first news item linked above, however, notes that:

There have been reports of rifts within the highly politicised upper echelons of Zimbabwe’s security forces.

Setting a runoff, delaying it, and calling out the goons may be part of a game of negotiating better terms for his departure or forcing a “power sharing” deal. Or maybe he really believes he can “win” full power back.

These are obviously very dangerous times in Zimbabwe.

0 thoughts on “Mugabe opts for runoff

  1. I have been wondering about this myself. The optimist in me hopes that Mugabe is trying to save face by making it appear to have been close (enough for a runoff). The pessimist fears that he is biding some time, the better to subvert the process and steal the election.

  2. The game plan, as I see it at this point:

    1. Force a runoff for the presidency, and crank up the intimidation and fraud machines to full blast;

    2. Keep control of the Senate through the 33 members who are appointed de jure or de facto by the president; and then

    3. Bribe, threaten or otherwise suborn at least nine members of the House – driving a wedge (yet again) between the two MDC factions could do the trick, and a re-elected Mugabe with the ZANU-PF paramilitaries at his disposal would have plenty of incentives.

    I’m not sure the people will let him get away with it this time, but I do expect him to try, and I won’t count the old bastard out until he’s gone.

  3. Jonathan, I’ve been really missing your interpretation of the Zimbabwe situation. The net hasn’t been the same since The Head Heeb went on hiatus!

    Where, aside from this little orchard, do you find yourself going now for analysis and discussion of Zimbabwe? I’ve found much reporting to be somewhat shallow–though the local(-ish) Globe and Mail has been covering the election quite well, with a front page article nearly every day.

  4. If it’s any consolation, Vasi, I also miss the conversations sometimes. Unfortunately, I think that day has passed: it’s been nine months now, and while being the boss has become natural, it isn’t taking any less time.

    Anyway, the South African papers such as the M&G have good coverage, and the online Zimbabwe media (New Zimbabwe etc.) is also good if you don’t mind news that’s three parts rumor. I also go to Sokwanele, a Harare-based civil society site that’s had very solid coverage of the elections and the various machinations surrounding them. Hope this helps.

  5. I must say it was a real treat to look at my comments editor this morning and see not only Jonathan, but two of the regular discussants from The Head Heeb (Errol and Vasi) had been by to “seed” the orchard.

    Thanks, and please keep coming!

    Of course, as I have expressed to Jonathan myself, I, too, very much miss THH. I understand the reasons, of course, but it is with sadness that I read here that it is unlikely to return.

    Jonathan, please do keep the site up even if never updated. I know very well that maintaining a site is not costless, but I know there would be many volunteers to help defray costs.

    THH is not the only dormant site that I feel this way about. I really miss Baraita, too (which has content that overlaps with parts of THH’s bailiwick.) Alas, the owner of that site neither identified herself nor provided a contact e-mail address.

    OK, this comment has strayed far off topic, but sometimes that is justified.

  6. I highly recommend that link that Jonathan provided at no. 6.

    Among other things, it suggests that ZEC officials are under arrest.

    It also provides background on a story that has been in the news today, regarding the ZANU-PF’s calls for a recount (of a count that has never been released).

  7. Among other things, it suggests that ZEC officials are under arrest.

    It would appear from context that these are precinct captains rather than high-ranking officials (the latter of whom are Mugabe’s men). If I had to guess, the message to the election workers in the field is that they’d better report the results the way ZANU-PF wants them reported.

    Also, as you’re probably aware, ZANU-PF is contesting 16 House seats as well as the presidential results. Normally, I’d discount these challenges, as the number of votes in issue is too small to be dispositive. If Mugabe wins the presidential election, though, and if the judiciary is sufficiently suborned and/or cowed, then ZANU-PF might be able to steal back the House.

    As I said before: I won’t count them out until they’re gone – and even then, I’d check twice to make sure.

  8. Yes, I should have noted that I, too, understood the reference to be local ZEC officials, not the national (who I would assume are somewhat less than independent).

    Either this planting or another one mentions the 16 seats being challenged. Right, as long as the man is alive and in the country, he is very much not to be counted out.

    And, on behalf of posterity, let me be the first to thank Jonathan for his intention to leave The Head Heeb up. I have used many an entry there in classes, and imagine I will continue to do so.

  9. And, on behalf of posterity, let me be the first to thank Jonathan for his intention to leave The Head Heeb up.

    hear hear.

  10. Mugabe tried to go ballistic. Literally:

    “Mugabe orders partial recount as boat containing regime’s 77 tonnes of Chinese arms [!!] is marooned off South African coast”

    Daily Mail (UK) 19 April 2008

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