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Cato Institute at Tsvangirai's Elbow Vultures Circle Zimbabwe

Vultures Circle Zimbabwe

by PATRICK BOND

Durban, South Africa.

Zimbabwe’s March 29 election surprised many, because although it seemed President Robert Mugabe had the machinery in place to ensure a victory even by stealth as has happened before, the groundswell of opposition was overwhelming. By late on April 3, we don’t know how many votes he won, either in reality or in the cooked books of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), but certainly fewer than 50 per cent.

What is known, at this writing, is that a bare plurality of the 210 seats in the House of Assembly were won by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change: 99. This was two ahead of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, with Arthur Mutambara’s MDC faction getting 10 and the independent Jonathan Moyo retaining his seat. (Three more seats will be fought for in by-elections due to the deaths of MDC candidates.)

But these are official statistics, and who knows what the actual votes were, once the multiple systems of rigging are exposed, if ever they are?

As for the presidential race ­ for which at this time no figures have been released by the ZEC – Tsvangirai says that based on polling place reportbacks, he received 1,171,079 votes, or about 49 per cent, with Mugabe getting 44 per cent and Makoni the balance. (Mutambara told his supporters to vote for Makoni.)

Senate and municipal election results are also not being released as we write. In any case, the official parliamentary results are so distorted that on Thursday morning the state-owned Herald newspaper claimed, "Zanu-PF had won 45,94 per cent of the votes, MDC-Tsvangirai 42,88 per cent, the MDC [Mutambaraba] 8,39 per cent and the minor parties and independent candidates 2,79 per cent." The Herald even claimed Zanu-PF outpolled Tsvangirai’s MDC in Matabeleland South.

Though Zanu-PF has definitely lost control of parliament, such numbers justify Mugabe potentially contesting a run-off, which would be held no more than 21 days after March 29. Tsvangirai and former finance Minister Simba Makoni had a pre-election pact to unite in such an event, and it is hard to imagine that if the pact holds, Tsvangirai would not beat Mugabe outright, one on one.

Makoni, who ran solo for president with no machine behind him, never gained the open public support of key military factions and of dissident Zanu-PF politicians that his main handler, Ibbo Mandaza, had predicted.

Makoni’s arrogance in entering the race ­ probably drawing away roughly the same votes from each main party ­ was again witnessed this morning. His advisor, former Mugabe spokersperson Godfrey Chanetsa, now insists that in a new government in alliance with Tsvangirai, Makoni would not "play second fiddle. He came to lead."

As reporter Fiona Forde put it, "frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations were laying the groundwork for a government of national unity that would include not only the opposition MDC but also Zanu-PF with Makoni taking on a senior role with extended executive powers."

Here’s Chanetsa’s strange rationale: "Eight percent is an illusion. Many people were afraid to vote for Simba, afraid of letting Zanu 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?"

Meanwhile, an ominous dance began between Tsvangirai and the forces of imperialism. According to a Reuters report today, the MDC would gain access to US$2 billion per year in ‘aid and development’ ­ which normally is top-heavy with foreign debt and chock-full of conditions. Amongst these, most likely, are dramatic cuts to the civil services, so that the Zimbabwe central bank stops printing so much money, fuelling inflation. But the downside is the potential deepening of the country’s economic crisis in the short term, as effective demand falls while more luxury goods become available thanks to foreign exchange inflows.

The key players are the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union and the United Nations. No doubt Bush’s White House is also involved in negotiations, which, if Tsvangirai persuades Mugabe to depart, may even reach fruition next week at the IMF/Bank spring meetings in Washington.

Given that Tsvangirai has chosen advisors from the International Republican Institute and Cato Institute, such a process was anticipated. It simply means that the left-leaning civil society forces that backed Tsvangirai have a huge regroupment challenge. If after an April 21 victory, many progressive Zimbabwean organizations lose cadres into an expanded state, this may recall the liquidation of South Africa’s Mass Democratic Movement into the African National Congress government.

At least in Kenya, reports from Tuesday’s street battles between hundreds of protesters and police show that civil society will not necessarily accept a ‘supersized state’ as a gimmick to seduce contesting parties into a government of national unity. "No more than 24!" was the activists’ demand for a slim state so that more social spending can be spent on ordinary people, not the bloated ministers’ Mercedes.

In the same critical spirit, Kenya’s National Civil society Congress and Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice offered wisdom and solidarity in a statement today. Amongst their concerns, were "That SADC should review their statement that concluded that elections were free and fair while closing their ears to the significance of the undemocratic practices of the Zanu-PF regime."

Between Kenya’s tragic election last December and Zimbabwe’s uplifting experience last Saturday, lessons should be taught and retaught about the dangers of elite transition between a voracious, corrupt, violent and divisive set of rulers, and an incoming crew who might not withstand the blandishments of local power-sharing and global economic seduction.

PATRICK BOND is the Director of the Durban based Centre for Civil Society.

This piece appears in the very useful Pambazuka News, "weekly forum for social justice in Africa."