HomeOpinion & AnalysisMugabe’s big election gamble

Mugabe’s big election gamble

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is a man generally not known to go back on a particular statement that he makes in public, no matter how irrational it may seem. In our current national political circumstances he has indicated, at least politically, that he is keen to see out the end of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) via the constitutional reform process in order to have national elections by the end of June 2011.

He reiterated the same message as recently as at a conference of traditional chiefs in Kariba towards the end of last month.
The circumstances that have led Mugabe to declare such a seemingly absolute position are interesting to say the least. In what one can only view as frustration at what he considers the intransigence of the MDC-T after it protested the unilateral appointments of governors and ambassadors, Mugabe decided to take one of the biggest gambles of his latter-day political career. This is because his decision to announce his intention to ensure that elections are held by June next year is extremely problematic for his party and his leadership tenure.
The most evident problem that Zanu PF and Mugabe face if they go through with holding elections next year is that they are still rather unpopular and would not necessarily be able to win a free and fair election outright. This means that it is next to impossible for them to run the country on their own or would require nothing short of a political miracle within the context of a free and fair election.
As a follow-up to the first problem, Mugabe has also probably assumed that he can win an election based on a number crunching game which no doubt his party has been analysing for a long time now. The intention would be to target particular numbers of voters in various provinces and districts to make up a total majority in a presidential vote count and thereby defeat the MDC-T.  The statistical precedence to be used would be that of the March 2008 elections as to which provinces to target more than others. (Hence the arrival of Jabulani Sibanda in various parts of Masvingo province.)
Zanu PF supporters and leaders would be given specific voter number targets for the constitutional referendum in order to measure the capacity of their party to be able to use such statistical evidence for an eventual general election  with all the attendant manipulation of electoral regulations which now include voting per ward as opposed to constituencies. The only problem is that it might not be as successful as they would anticipate.
The third problem that Mugabe and Zanu PF would face is that if they were to employ violent tactics in any way similar to those they undertook for the disputed June 2008 presidential run-off election, it would be extremely difficult to persuade Sadc and the AU on the legitimacy of the same. This is because the two regional bodies are not keen on either another inclusive government when they do not see any reason why this one should be cut short, particularly because of his anger with the MDC-T. They will ask Mugabe, if he insists, for a guarantee that if he loses, he will accept the result. 
The same bodies are persuaded that unless Zanu PF is clear on its own succession plan, there is no particular need for it to pull out of the GPA and subject them to what they consider rather bothersome international attention. So Mugabe’s dilemma is not only how to persuade Sadc and the AU of the necessity of his somewhat rash decision two weeks ago, but also guaranteeing the two regional bodies of the fact that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission together with what will remain of the inclusive government can hold a free and fair election with an internationally credible and acceptable result. And this will be expected to be a result that will not be arrived at in a manner similar to the problematic presidential run-off of June 2008 wherein the military was accused of undue interference.
The fourth gamble that Mugabe has made is that of assuming the full support of his party structures in an election to be held in less than a year’s time. If he declares another harmonised election, he would have uncertainly calculated that his party has the capacity to conduct primary elections for council, house of assembly and senatorial seats. Add to this the potential disgruntlement of those sitting councillors, MPs and Senators who might not easily be willing to have their terms of office shortened unilaterally. So unless he can muster enough discipline in his own party structures he is likely to be unable to get their total support over and above the resolutions of his party’s national conference resolutions in December.
The fifth assumption that Mugabe makes is that his newfound black economic empowerment policy will gain him enough public sympathy to win what must be a popular vote by June 2011. Given the shortness of time between now and then, it is unlikely that the systems of patronage will have spread wide enough for him to gain the moral support that would make an electoral difference. By its very nature, an economic empowerment programme via business/mining/industry is largely elitist and difficult to turn into popular support except on paper. It is also economically dangerous to attempt to fast-track such an initiative given the damaging effects it can have on an already fragile national economy with high unemployment, a weak state revenue base as well as a foreign currency standing in for a national one.
All in all, Mugabe’s gamble is a huge political one for himself and his own party. It is disheartening that his gamble also has serious consequences for the rest of the country and its citizens.
The gamble by Mugabe is one that is laced with the frustration of being unable to act unilaterally in government without Sadc, the AU and the rest of the international community being brought into the fray.  It also means that following his announcement, he may however still be obliged to accept a visit by South African President Jacob Zuma on what exactly he means and how he intends to undertake the same. The difference in this instance might just be the same.

Takura can be contacted on kuurayiwa@gmail.com.


By Takura Zhangazha

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