AFRICAN leaders – including South African President Thabo Mbeki – are for the first time expected to reject President Robert Mugabe’s purported “win” in today’s presidential election run-off in which he will be the only candidate after his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out due to political violence.
The rejection of Mugabe’s “victory” would compound his legitimacy crisis and leave him isolated and even more vulnerable to economic pressures than before.
This, analysts said, strengthens Mbeki’s hand in his push for direct talks between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Mbeki’s envoys have been in Harare in a bid to get today’s poll postponed.
They are lobbying for a government of national unity between Mugabe’s Zanu PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC.
Mugabe at a rally on Wednesday said he was amenable to dialogue with the opposition after the poll. He said he was “open to discussion” with Tsvangirai and the MDC, softening his hardline stance against the opposition.
The same day, Tsvangirai said he wanted talks on forming a transitional authority, which would work for political stability and economic recovery before fresh elections.
Mugabe had previously shown little interest in talks, instead focusing on the election, but on Wednesday he showed signs of feeling the mounting pressure of rejection and isolation by world leaders, including African ones who had previously recognised his disputed electoral victories.
Mugabe has already lost the support of almost all neighbouring leaders. Those who supported Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle the most such as Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana have broken ranks with him. Mbeki is also showing signs of growing impatience with Mugabe.
At the weekend he made it clear that there was no way out except through dialogue, a reality Mugabe is now beginning to acknowledge.
In a further sign Mugabe was changing tack on talks, MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti was yesterday granted bail by the High Court after more than two weeks in detention on charges of treason.
Tsvangirai had said on Wednesday no negotiations could take place over the country’s crisis until Biti – his MDC faction’s chief negotiator – and 2 000 other “political prisoners” were freed. The MDC had claimed Biti’s arrest was part of a pattern of repression and harassment against the opposition.
World leaders have dismissed the presidential run-off as a farce. Tsvangirai had been the only candidate facing Mugabe, but withdrew citing a wave of political violence, intimidation, killings, internal displacements and disenfranchisement of voters.
Sadc, the African Union (AU), the United Nations Security Council and Western governments have since mobilised against Mugabe and called on his government to end violence and call off the run-off.
On Monday, the UN Security Council issued its first collective condemnation of the violence gripping Zimbabwe, saying it would be “impossible for a free and fair election to take place”.
“The Security Council regrets that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on 27 June,” it stated.
Britain led an effort, dominated by the West, to include the toughest language, while South Africa and allies including China and Russia pushed to dilute it somewhat. But in the end China and Russia, who have supported Mugabe in the Security Council agreed to the contents of the resolution which observers described as “tough and unambiguous”.
Mugabe also faced increasing pressure from his fellow heads of state in Sadc, which is divided on how to deal with the Zimbabwe crisis.
South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, chosen by the 14-nation bloc as mediator in the crisis, has maintained a strategy of quiet diplomacy, pushing for negotiations between Zanu PF and the MDC, without criticising Mugabe publicly.
Zambian President and also Sadc chairperson Levy Mwanawasa on Sunday said the run-off should be postponed to avert a regional catastrophe.
“There are a lot of unconstitutional things that have been done in this process (election campaign),” Mwanawasa said. “It will, therefore, not be out of fashion to postpone this election to avert a catastrophe in this region.”
He said it would be “scandalous” for Sadc to remain silent on Zimbabwe.
“The current political situation in Zimbabwe falls far short of the Sadc principles,” said the Zambian leader. “Free campaigns have not been allowed, and the opposition have been denied access to the media. These are all in contravention of the Sadc principles.”
The Sadc organ on politics, defence and security on Wednesday called for the postponement of the election, joining the UN Security Council and Western governments that have called for the cancellation of the poll.
Two members of the troika organ, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and King Mswati of Swaziland met in Mbabane.
“It is the considered opinion of the organ summit that holding the election under the current circumstances may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of its outcome,” the leaders said in a communiquÃ© after the meeting.
But the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said today’s election would go ahead and rejected Tsvangirai’s bid to withdraw from the poll saying his letter of pulling out was filed too late and of no legal force.
The Sadc election observer mission this week said members of Zimbabwe’s uniformed forces were committing political violence against supporters of the opposition.
“There are acts of violence being perpetrated by the unformed forces . . . The violence is in some instances instigated by the political leadership,” mission head Jose Marcos Barrica of Angola said.
The African Union on Tuesday said political violence in Zimbabwe was of grave concern, adding it had started consultations with African leaders on what action to take.
Jean Ping, the chairman of the African Union Commission said: “This development (Tsvangirai withdrawal) and the increasing acts of violence in the run-up to the second round of the presidential election are a matter of grave concern to the Commission of the AU.”
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and South African ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma also called for the run-off to be postponed.
Zuma called for urgent intervention by the UN and Sadc saying the situation in Zimbabwe was out of control.
“The ANC says the run-off is no longer a solution, you need a political arrangement first … then elections down the line,” Zuma said.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela on Wednesday described the Zimbabwean crisis as “a tragic failure of leadership”.
David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary said it was “important that African leaders continue to make clear that a government which violates the constitution in Zimbabwe… cannot be held as the legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people.”
He charged that the constitution was violated because the second round poll was meant to happen within 21 days of the March 29 election.
By Dumisani Muleya/Constantine Chimakure