6 March 2002

ZIMBABWE: Focus on post-election scenarios

Concern is mounting that violence will follow this weekend's presidential election no matter who wins.

Zimbabwe has been polarised by a long campaign for the 9-10 March election. President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have been demonised by their rival camps, and a close poll is likely to see violent acts of resistance and a settling of scores, commentators warn.

Mutual fears exist on both sides of the party divide, political analyst Brian Kagora told IRIN. If Tsvangirai wins, his greatest political threat is expected to come from the senior ranks of the army, war veterans, and the ruling party’s militia who have repeatedly warned they would not accept his presidency.

A Mugabe victory is expected to trigger an "explosion" in the urban areas, the political base of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Kagora said. Mass protest in support of former trade union leader Tsvangirai, would aim at making Zimbabwe’s cities ungovernable.

"The biggest determining factor is the stance taken by the candidates themselves. If they extend an olive branch to each other for some kind of managed transition we won’t have the kind of explosion that everyone fears," said Kagora.

THE MUGABE WINS SCENARIO

"I truly believe that either way we are going to have some kind of violence. Our current government is extremely desperate and cannot afford to let anybody else in because of its record," commented political analyst Janah Ncube.

"If MDC loses we all know it will be because of rigging. People have invested a lot of hope for change in this election." She added that the MDC may not be able to control the ensuing street protests.

Given the scenario of urban resistance to a Mugabe victory, draconian legislation recently introduced is increasingly seen as aimed at political control in the post-election period. "A lot of people [perceived as government opponents] are going to be in trouble," said Ncube.

The Public Order and Security Act restricts people’s rights to freely gather. It also makes it a crime - punishable by up to 20 years in prison - to ridicule, denigrate or excite disaffection with the president or institutions of government.

"That means it is impossible to criticise the government," explained human rights lawyer Taiwanda Hondora. The act also makes it an offence "to create an organisation that seeks to coerce the government – meaning all lobby groups".

The government’s notorious information law seeks to regulate the independent media. A delayed labour relations bill subverts the right to strike. All these new pieces of legislation could be interpreted as prepared in readiness for the rigging of the poll, said Kagora.

Of equal concern is an old law, the Electoral Act. Section 158 allows the president to override any other legislation that relates to the election and validates anything he does, said Hondora.

"If ballot boxes are stuffed, Mugabe can pass a statutory instrument that can legalise that," he added. Under the security law, it would be illegal to even suggest that the president was doing anything untoward.

However, a crackdown would deepen the international isolation of the government and rule out any economic recovery. It would eventually precipitate a new crisis of legitimacy, noted Kagora. "The government would have to be even more militaristic in the containment of discontent," he added.

THE TSVANGIRAI WINS SCENARIO

A Tsvangirai victory by a small margin could lead to the ruling party unleashing "unaccredited violence". Acts of sabotage and banditry "could create an environment where the army is welcomed to restore law and order", Machaba-Hove said. The irony would be that Tsvangirai would inherit Mugabe’s security laws, enabling him "to crush the opposition", Kagora noted.

Mugabe’s election campaign has tried to make a direct connection to the independence era, and link Tsvangirai and the MDC to white “Rhodesian” interests and British imperialism. Mugabe has tried to evoke the spirit of the "chimurenga" (liberation war) in an appeal to nationalism and resistance to perceived "anglo-saxon" interests.

War veterans and ruling ZANU-PF party militia have reportedly been warning the rural population – as a form of electoral intimidation – that they would return to the bush if Tsvangirai were elected. The countryside bore the brunt of Zimbabwe’s bitter independence struggle.

But Kagora sees the main threat to a Tsvangirai presidency coming from the senior politicised ranks of the military, rather than rank and file troops and militia. An insurrection would suffer from a "lack of consensus and would be easy to deal with", he predicted.

However, Ncube is concerned that the MDC, if confronted by insecurity, would be just as ready to clamp down as its predecessor. "The only politics they know is ZANU-PF politics. 'Change' is a process, a culture, a mindset, not just a word," he said.

According to NGO-representative Nancy Kachingwe: "I don’t think the MDC are any more protected from the traps of being in power than anyone else." She added that the MDC was still a broad based movement that had not yet had a chance to become a party and address some of its internal contradictions.

But for Kagora the biggest challenge to a Tsvangirai presidency would be the crisis of expectations generated by the economy’s decade of decline, and the popular demand for a new order. "People are expecting magic," Kagora says. (IRIN)

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